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Arianna Huffington

She was at the forefront of the digital revolution, but libraries were her first love

is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of 13 books, but she is best known for her news website, The Huffington Post, which she co-founded in 2005 and which AOL acquired last year for $315 million. In April, the site won its first Pulitzer Prize, which went to military correspondent David Wood in the category of national reporting.

Politically, Huffington is most known for jumping the aisle in the 1990s, transforming from a supporter of conservative causes to a champion of liberal views, a shift she now says was less about politics and more about her understanding of the role of government.

“In my GOP years, the private sector was very generous giving out things … caring for the middle class is not a left-wing opinion,” she says.

Huffington will be the featured guest at the Hartford Public Library’s annual fundraiser, One Big Summer Night, on June 12 at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

Libraries, books and reading have always been close to Huffington’s heart. She remembers a story her mother used to tell: “I was 5 years old and my friends came to play. I chased them away because they interrupted my reading. I had books, so who needed friends? I still love curling up with a book and would much rather read from a book than from an iPad or Kindle,” she says.

The Huffington Post recently did a series about libraries suffering from budget cuts due to the poor economy. “It really is so sad,” she says. “Libraries are such great places and do so many great things for so many people.”

Between juggling meetings, tweets, postings and more meetings, she found a few minutes to chat with Hartford Magazine.

Q: What do you think is going right in the United States right now? Wrong?

A: What is going wrong is the downward mobility we are seeing. The fact that kids are graduating from college and can’t get jobs, that over 5 million people have been without a job for so long, that so many homeowners are still underwater. I am optimistic about the United States because it is about an outpouring of empathy and creativity and innovation in trying to address what is happening because of the bad economy.

Q: Your thoughts on the presidential campaign so far?

A: I think it has been a very depressing campaign. This is an incredibly important election and there should be a great debate about the future of the country. Instead, we are debating things like contraception and other minor issues.

Q: Complete this sentence: If I could have changed one thing in my life it would be … A: I would have been less afraid of failing and I would have tried even more things. My big message to my daughter is: Failure is the stepping stone to success. I became more fearless as I got older. I was lucky, though, because I had a very unconventional mother who definitely helped me tremendously.

Q: Many baby boomers your age are planning for retirement. Are you? A: Not yet. I love getting up every morning and being part of a media outlet that covers the most important—and the most entertaining— stories of the day.

Q: What is on your iPod? A: More country music than you would probably expect. I’m in a Lyle Lovett phase. It’s a phase that’s been going on for years.

Q: How many hours a day do you spend on Twitter and Facebook? A: I’ve never tallied up my time spent—it varies so much from day to day. But what’s important isn’t how much you use it, but how you use it. Do you use it to learn and connect and engage, or as just another tool for distraction? What I love is what NYU Professor Jay Rosen has described as mind-mapping, as opposed to life-mapping: sharing what you’ve discovered, what you’ve just read, a new insight, starting conversations.

Q: Tell me something no one knows about you. A: I got in trouble for wearing red nail polish on the day I graduated from Cambridge. As we waited in our gowns and hoods, the matron noticed my nails and sent immediately for nail varnish remover. I’ve never worn red nail polish since— just the natural color, which has the extra advantage of not showing when it chips.

For ticket information for One Big Summer Night call 860-695-6300 or go to hplct.org.

Read MaryEllen Fillo’s blog at courantblogs.com/java, friend her at www.facebook.com/MaryEllenFillo and follow her at twitter@maryellenfillo. You can hear her on WDRC AM and FM on Friday mornings and see her on FOX CT on Thursdays.