WASHINGTON – Far more than the 4,000 people who were admitted into Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s talk at the National Book Festival Aug. 31 had hoped to see their “rock star.”
A group of American University students who camped out at 4 a.m. for the 11:30 a.m. talk were not disappointed.
First and foremost on the minds of many of in the audience was the health the 86-year-old jurist, who recently completed radiation treatments for pancreatic cancer.
“I am alive,” Ginsburg declared. “I am on my way to being very well.”
Rather than think about her aches and pains, Ginsburg said she spent her much of her recovery reading court materials to be ready for the next session, which starts in October.
“I love my job. It’s the best and hardest job that I ever had. It has kept me going through four cancer bouts,” she said.
At times, Ginsburg, who was interviewed by NPR’s Nina Totenberg, did not seem to take herself seriously, joking how everyone wants to take a photo with her and why she is referred to as Notorious R.B.G., likening her to the rapper Notorious B.I.G.
“It’s evident” that the two are alike, she said. “We were both born and bred in New York.”
She also spoke about receiving a call from Jennifer Lopez, who asked if she and her fiancé, former Yankee Alex Rodriguez, could meet her.
She welcomed them into her chambers, and Lopez asked what her secret was to a long marriage. Ginsburg was married to the late Marty Ginsburg for almost 55 years.
She replied with advice she said she received from her mother-in-law on her wedding day, who told her, “It helps sometimes to be a little deaf, and that good advice I have followed in every workplace, including the good job I have now.”
Just tune out unkind words, she said.
Much of her speech was devoted to her difficulties of being taken seriously and getting jobs due to the three strikes against her, which were included being Jewish, being a woman and “the absolute killer was I had a four-year-old daughter when I graduated law school,” she said.
But thanks to a Columbia University professor who threatened a lawyer that he would never again recommend a Columbia grad to his firm, Ginsburg’s career took hold.
Still, she said she had to prove herself better than her male counterparts over and over again.
Even the teachers at her children’s school called her for every issue concerning her son until she told them, “This child has two parents. Please call his father.”
She said the calls decreased after that. “The school was much more reluctant to take a father away from his work.”
She referred kindly to many of her fellow former justices, including retired Sandra Day O’Connor, who Ginsburg said, “was as close as I came to having a big sister,” and the late Antonin Scalia, with whom she shared jokes, vacations, the love of opera but rarely each other’s interpretation of the United States Constitution.
She referred to her current female justices, Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, as “my two sisters-in-law.”
An appreciative crowd clapped often throughout her talk and gave her a standing ovation at the end.
“Excellent. She really demonstrated she has her wits about her, and she should remain on the court,” said Betty Ankrapp of Gaithersburg.
Ginsburg was one of 140 authors, poets and illustrators, who read from their newest works, spoke about the craft of writing and answered questions throughout the day, which began at 9 a.m. and did not finish until 8 p.m.
In the basement of the convention center, attendees could purchase books and stand in long lines to get them signed by their authors.
Other headliners at the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival included chef Jose Andres, New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks and biographer David McCullough.
The Library of Congress has 167 million items in its collection, including 38 million books, 3.6 million recordings, 14 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 8.1 million pieces of sheet music and 70 million manuscripts.