Dierks Bentley and Maneet Chauhan Take Us Inside the Stay-at-Home Literary Award Gala

For 17 years, the Nashville Public Library Foundation (NPLF) has recognized esteemed writers, encouraged thoughtful discourse and raised much-needed funds for the city’s network of libraries through the Literary Award Gala. This year, instead of opening the doors to the main branch of the library for a black-tie fundraiser, NPLF is bringing the Literary Award Gala to you. On Nov. 14, the organization will host a Virtual Public Lecture and the Stay-at-Home Literary Award Gala, co-chaired by Wanda Lyle and Gayle Williams.

The events will kick off a yearlong initiative called Literacy as the Great Equalizer, which will shine a spotlight on NPLF’s commitment to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion through its literacy programs. Details about the yearlong activities will be shared in the free-to-the-public lecture, which will be livestreamed on Nov. 14 at 10 a.m. and will include stories from local families and authors, whose lives have been changed by the Nashville Public Library.

That evening, the Stay-at-Home Literary Award Gala will be held at 7 p.m. and will feature a produced event emceed by country star Dierks Bentley and celebrity chef Maneet Chauhan. Tickets can be purchased at nplf.org/gala.

We chatted with the gala emcees, Dierks and Maneet, to find out a bit more about the event, what they love about the library and why they think the city should show its support to NPLF. 

We were excited to hear that you’re co-hosting the Stay-at-Home Literary Award Gala for NPLF. What can you tell readers about what to expect from the event? 

Dierks Bentley: I’m looking forward to emceeing with Maneet and reminding everyone about how important Nashville’s Public Library is, now more than ever. Even though our community can’t physically be together, NPL was able to make this event feel special without having to leave the house.

Maneet Chauhan: I think what is going to be fun is how creatively this gala is going to be translated as a virtual event. Everything is being done remotely, but there is a home aspect of it — we are going to be making some packages — some food packages — and [people] can be watching this while they're eating the food. We're trying our level best to make it as amazing [and] gala-ish as possible.

What made you want to be a part of this event?

DB: This year has looked a lot different for everyone, including myself. With more personal time on my hands and more time with my kids than ever, it really reminds you how critical the resources are in our towns and that we need to continue to support.

MC: I personally love libraries. Libraries are such a place for wonderment for me. Because you can literally go to the library and travel anywhere in the world; you can discover any cuisine or any skill in a library. The library has always been a very fascinating place for me. ... So that's why when they asked me, I was like, yes, where do I sign up? 

What do you love about the Nashville Public Library?

DB: As a father to three, there is so much to be discovered at a library. They are a safe place for everyone with any type of interest, which really makes libraries magical.

MC: I'm going to sound like a complete geek but the smell of books. I am a chef, so to me, it is an olfactory sensation. The smell of books is something which just makes me feel that I belong.

This year, more than ever, nonprofits need the support of the community to keep their doors open. Why do you think it’s important for the city to support NPLF?

DB: We have to continue to support the resources and programs that offer learning and creativity for our children and for adults. There’s nothing like getting lost in a book for me even still today. It opens your imagination and mind in so many different ways.

MC: Especially in today's day and age, knowledge is power. And the public library gives the ability to people to get that power without actually having to pay for it. That is one opportunity that should be offered to anybody and everybody, where the economic strata is not taken into consideration. And I think that is why it's very important. Also, in today's day and age, a lot of people — at least people I've been talking to — have taken up reading, be it learning new skills [or] learning about new places, and the library is one of the most incredible resources that you can go to. It gives people a glimmer of hope in these turbulent times, so I do think it's very, very important for the city and everybody to stand up and support the library.

I’m sure you have many demands on your time and requests for your participation with various causes and nonprofits. How do you choose which organizations to dedicate your time and resources to?

DB: For me, it’s a no-brainer to give back to the places that give the Nashville community so much.

MC: The first rule of thumb is [that] it needs to be an organization that speaks to me, because I am the kind of person who speaks from my heart. I wear my heart on my sleeve. If it doesn't speak to me, I will not be able to give justice to the cause and speak from my heart about it. So that's one of the big things. That being said, I also realize that I am very fortunate to be where I am so whenever I can help or get involved, I absolutely do. I absolutely get involved, provided that I have time for it.

Photographs by Jim Wright and Daniel Meigs