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Williamsburg’s Leonard Library, of ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’, Earns Literary Landmark Status

Leonard Library at 81 Devoe St. (Google Maps)

Nov. 20, 2018 By Laura Hanrahan

After its publication 75 years ago, Betty Smith’s widely beloved “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn” has garnered a new status for Williamsburg’s Leonard Library.

The library, located at 81 Devoe Street, has been designated as a literary landmark for the central role it plays in the novel, with the status coming as the book celebrates three-quarters of a century of continued fame and success.

The library held an unveiling ceremony for the commemorative landmark plaque on Nov. 14, attended by members of Smith’s family, Brooklyn Public Library and elected officials, and Amy Lyons, the cover illustrator of the 75th anniversary edition of the book.

“A Tree Grows In Brooklyn”, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story, follows the life of Francie Nolan in 1900s Williamsburg. Nolan lived in a tenement building on Grand Street, and would often escape to Leonard Library, just blocks away from her home.

via Brooklyn Library

The library becomes a place of comfort for Nolan, allowing her read endless stories of adventure, love and friendship. She quickly realizes there that “the world was hers for the reading.”

Smith grew up visiting the library herself and found her love of books and reading there, according to her daughter Nancy Smith Pfeiffer.

While the inside of the building has undergone several changes over the years, the outside of the building is the same as when Smith first visited.

“I wish my mother were here; she would be so pleased and honored,” Smith Pfeiffer said at the event.

The literary landmark honor was bestowed by United For Libraries, the division of the American Library Association that selects literary landmarks across the United States. The new plaque will be installed on the outside of the building.

This is not the first time Smith has been recognized by the Leonard Library. In 2008, in conjunction with Smith’s family and the Parks Department, a tree was planted in her memory outside the building.

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