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Colson Whitehead was celebrating his “great moment,” as Salman Rushdie put it, and 48th birthday with a piece of chocolate cake at the New York Public Library on Monday night. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, along with Tom Brokaw, Michael Chabon, Carla Hayden and Robert Wilson, was being honored at the Library Lions Annual Gala for contributions to the artistic community.

Supporters including literary titans and former Lion honorees such as Zadie Smith and Rushdie were on hand wearing their finest black-tie to welcome the new class of honorees. Guests dined in the breathtaking Deborah, Jonathan F. P., Samuel Priest and Adam R. Rose Main Reading Room, which measures roughly two city blocks and has 52-foot ceilings that are covered in murals.

The Lions — past and present — not only shared their mutual admiration for the beautiful building, but for each other as well. The honorees offered praise for each other’s work throughout the night. “Gay Talese — love that guy. I love his work and he’s a delightful person,” said Chabon. “Zadie Smith…she’s clearly one of the best writers in the English language alive today.”

As for the future generation of Lions who wants to make an impact on the literary community, “the most important thing is to read and read widely, read outside your comfort zone,” advised Chabon, fitting advice given the location of the gala. “You can’t really control whether you’ll get to make an impact on society or not, but you can control whether you get your work done or not,” he added.

Rushdie is pinning his optimism to the next generation of aspiring writers. “I think if we can just avoid destroying the planet until those kids grow up, then maybe they’ll do a better job than we did,” he said.

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