When Justin Paul was a Staples High School student, he played piano for the Westport Library’s signature Booked for the Evening fundraiser.
The Class of 2003 graduate returns to the event this year.
This time though, he’s not the entertainment.
He’s the honoree.
Paul — the Oscar, Grammy, Tony and Golden Globe Award-winning songwriter whose collaboration with Benj Pasek includes “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman,” “A Christmas Story,” “Dogfight” and “James and the Giant Peach” — joins the likes of Tom Brokaw, E.L. Doctorow, Pete Hamill, Martin Scorsese, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Halberstam, Patti Smith, Alan Alda and fellow Westporters Nile Rodgers and Lynsey Addario as “Booked” recipients.
Not bad for a 33-year-old.
Paul admits that he doesn’t have the “life experiences” of honorees. But he’s got plenty of riveting acccomplishments.
And he knows the Westport Library well.
“Growing up, it was a constant in my life,” Paul says. “I went there to research school projects, to find new books to read, and everything else. It’s a cornerstone of Westport.”
In middle school, going downtown by himself to the library made him feel “very adult, very cool.”
The CD and DVD collections helped him on his career path. “I think they subtly encouraged my exploration of music, movies and plays,” he says.
Another library — the music one at the University of Michigan — played an important role in Paul’s life too.
“I spent a healthy percentage of time there,” he recalls. “They had scores of every classical piece, and every Broadway musical. It completely fed my hunger and curiosity.”
Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, at January’s Golden Globe Awards. (Photo/Paul Drinkwater NBC)
When Paul and Pasek began their songwriting careers, librarians would request official copies of their work.
“We always said yes,” Paul notes. “As 23-year-0lds, hearing from a librarian made us feel very grown up.”
A lot has happened in the decade since. And it’s been only a decade and a half since Paul went from playing piano at Booked for the Evening, to the main event.
What will he talk about on June 11?
“I could fill an hour just listing all the Westport influences on my life,” he jokes.
“But the library is all about story-telling. That’s what Benj and I do. So it will probably have something to do with stories.”
(“Booked for the Evening” is set for Monday, June 11, 7 p.m. at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wilton. For tickets and sponsorship information, click here.)