A Look Inside Gloria Steinem’s Home Library

“Books were my first everything—my first teachers, my first friends,” says Gloria Steinem. She spent a lot of her childhood absorbing as much literature as she could. She also spent much of her childhood absorbing the reality that her mother, despite being an accomplished journalist, suffered from not being able to progress in a profession she very much enjoyed. At the time, a woman’s path was limited by societal constructs.

Gloria’s awareness of those constructs perhaps sparked the activist and advocate we all know today. She suspects that choosing a writing career was her way of living the career her mother never realized.

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When Gloria bought her current home in New York City, she recalls being particularly charmed by one of the building’s details—the high ceilings. It wasn’t just for looks. “I thought, oh great, there will finally be room for all of my books.”

She would spend the next several decades effecting change and inspiring progress from those book-lined walls. As her contributions grew, her book collection grew as well.

Pictured is her treasured library ladder, portions of the extensive bookshelf, and titles by some of her dearest friends. The books and ladder symbolize community and, especially, the richness that comes with diversity.

“I’ve grown up to have wonderful friends who write wonderful books, and it’s a great point of pride to see them line the walls of my home,” Gloria adds.

When she thinks of her book collection, it brings to mind the film based on Fahrenheit 451, the dystopian novel about censorship and book burning.

“When I look at my books, I think about the Truffaut film, Fahrenheit 451—about an authoritarian society that had outlawed books. As a counter or a rebellion to that, every person in that society memorized one entire book,” Gloria says. “I loved that idea—having a whole book inside you. The last scene is of all of these people, walking in a circle, reciting the book that they had learned by heart. To keep the book alive.”

“It’s clear as ever how desperately we need books; we need other voices, other whole perspectives,” Gloria says. “We’re communal animals, and we learn more from difference than we do from sameness.”


Heirloomist front cover

From The Heirloomist: 100 Treasures and the Stories They Tell by Shana Novak. Copyright © 2024. Available from Chronicle Books.

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