PROSPECT HEIGHTS – About 500 people (including dozens and dozens of young children) showed up to Brooklyn Central Library yesterday to hear Chelsea Clinton read her new book, “She Persisted Around the World,” get their copies signed, and ask questions like — “Are you gonna be president one day?”
“She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History” is a companion to Clinton and Illustrator Alexandra Boiger’s original book, “She Persisted Around the World: 13 American Women Who Changed the World.” Brooklyn was the fifth location on her tour and the first one where she read aloud her book (the rest were book-signings).
The carpet in front of the center stage was filled with excited, young girls (and three little boys) all holding copies of their books. Some were reading them, some were looking at the pictures and describing it to their friends, and others were hearing the story read by their moms while they flipped the pages. The line to get into the library at 10 Grand Army Plaza was going down the flight of stairs and around the block. The female-empowered event had songs played by legendary female artists such as Beyoncé (“Run the World”,) Alicia Keys (“Girl on Fire”,) and P!nk (“What About Us).”
The event began with Clinton reading aloud her book, holding the microphone with one hand and turning the pages with the other. At one point during the reading, Clinton paused when a kid was crying.
“Please don’t take your crying children out the room,” she said aloud. “I think that would defeat the whole point of being persistent.”
After the reading, her editor, Jill Santopolo, asked her and Boiger a few questions.
“While there are only three or four sentences for each women’s story, it actually takes a lot of time to write three or four sentences,” Clinton said. “We wanted to have a real diversity across time, in geography, and field of achievement, because that was really important to us.”
The book includes 13 women including Marie Curie, Malala Yousafzai, and J.K. Rowling. Boiger had the role of illustrating the book, and though she knew some of the women, she had to research others.
“I was reading whatever I could find about these women. I was looking at documentaries if they existed, and I was especially happy when I would find an interview with one of the women,” she said, “because I wanted to really hear their voices, I wanted to see them speak, I wanted to feel them in a way you only can when you have that moment with a person.”
The young ladies on the carpet also got to raise their hands to get their questions answered. The entire room erupted in laughter, cheers, and applause when seven-year-old Isabella asked, “Are you gonna be president one day?”
Clinton answered the question by first telling a story of what happened to her when she was three years old. She was standing on the side of a rally when her father, Bill Clinton, was running for re-election as governor of Arkansas. An older woman came up to her and asked if she was going to run for governor of Arkansas one day. Clinton had replied, “Ma’am, I’m only three.”
“I realize that I am really lucky to be asked that question,” she said. “I think we should be asking our children, particularly our girls, if you want to be president one day, or if you want to win a noble prize one day, or if you want to be the head of the Brooklyn library one day. We should be asking you if you want to do great and good things to help you imagine yourselves as doing those things.”
She then explained that to run for public office three things have to check out: having a clear view of what one wants to do on the job, believe one will be really good for that job, and believe that one will be better at the job that someone who was already doing that job.
“For me right now, I really like my city councilwoman,” she said. “I really like our new City Council speaker, I think he’s doing a great job. I really like my congresswoman a lot. I support our senators. And I disagree with the president on everything.”
“While I have a clear view of what the person in that job should be doing, I also have a clear sense of what my own skills and experiences are,” she said. “We need someone who knows a lot about the job, someone who has a lot of empathy and has a clear view of what we should and shouldn’t be doing in the world.”
Clinton said she knows a lot about all those things, but “there are people who know a lot more about all those things, and I’m going to do everything I can to support one of them to defeat our president.”
Laughter was heard again when another young girl asked: “Why did women not have the same rights as men?”
Clinton described how there are still places in the world where it’s illegal for women to work in certain jobs, have bank accounts, and vote.
“There are a lot of places in the world where we still don’t have equal rights or equal access to opportunities, and there are a lot of reasons to explain that, but I think it really boils down to men in the world who believe they’re fundamentally better and fundamentally right with more opportunities than women.
“I don’t think biology should be destiny.”
Clinton believes persistence is necessary. If there’s anything readers should take away from the book, it is that none of the 13 women achieved what they did with their talents alone. “If you believe in God like I do, God gifted these women with extraordinary possibilities. But only through their persistence were those possibilities translated into real achievements,” she said.
She’s also overwhelmed by the positive responses she’s been getting on her book. One thing she is often struck by is the number of young boys who tell her they enjoyed reading her book.
“I do think it’s really important that we certainly tell our girls that you can be anything you want to be, and I think it’s really important to tell our boys that girls can be anything they want to be.”