NEA Arts Magazine

Laying the Groundwork

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 Mrs. Bush and Mr. Serageldin stand at either side of a large display announcing The Big Read and the book The Thief and the Dogs

Mrs. Laura Bush meets with Dr. Mohamed Ismail Anis Serageldin, director of the Alexandria Library, one of the partners in The Big Read Egypt/U.S. White House photo by Shealah Craighead.

In an address this past May at the World Economic Forum about the Egyptian Education Initiative, Mrs. Laura Bush, honorary chair of The Big Read, said “[The Big Read Egypt/U.S.] exchange will help inspire a love of literature in Egyptians and Americans while laying the groundwork for future collaboration between our nations.” Mrs. Bush also visited the Fayrouz Experimental School for Languages in Sharm el Sheikh where she joined students in a Big Read Egypt/U.S. roundtable discussion. In the following excerpt from the roundtable, Mrs. Bush discusses Fahrenheit 451, one of three Big Read titles that will be read by Egyptian communities.

Ray Bradbury got the [idea] for Fahrenheit 451 when he read about the burning of the library in Alexandria. [Chairman Gioia] asked Mr. Bradbury to write the introduction for the Arabic copy that you all will get later of Fahrenheit 451 that will be distributed to Egyptian participants in The Big Read Egypt/U.S. Mr. Bradbury notes in the introduction:

As you can well imagine, when I was 15 years old and heard about the burning of the books in the streets of Berlin—but even more importantly, I heard about the burning of the books in Alexandria, Egypt, 5,000 years before—it killed my soul. I openly wept, because I could imagine all those wonderful essays, the poems, the plays, the thoughts, the philosophies of those ancient people lost because a fire had burned them up and destroyed them forever. So, the one thing we all should learn from Ray Bradbury and from each other is how important our literature is to talk about our own ideas, the ideas of each of our countries, and how we can share those ideas with other countries through reading our important literature, that we can become closer to each other and friends with each other.

And then I think the most important point Ray Bradbury makes is it doesn’t matter if books are burned if you don’t read. If you don’t read, then you’re missing— might as well burn books, because you won’t know what’s in them—all the kinds of ideas of all the generations before us, especially in Egypt, where you have such a very, very old culture with so many, many ideas that now have spread around the world. It’s so important to get to know what those ancient people thought, and now to let each other know.