Talking with authors and writers at 2020 The National Book Festival

3 minute read
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden with Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the 2019 Festival. (Image courtesy of Library of Congress.)
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden with Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the 2019 Festival. (Image courtesy of Library of Congress.)

Theatres aren’t the only stages going virtual these days. For 19 years, the annual National Book Festival—held in Washington D.C. at the Library of Congress—has welcomed writers to their huge celebration of the written word. It’s always put them on actual stages to talk about their work. But this year, more than 120 authors, poets, and illustrators (the largest-ever National Book Festival gathering) will talk about their books virtually.

The book-loving Festival has always hosted a starry gathering, and this year is no exception. More than 120 authors will talk about their works (both live and recorded) on nine “stages.” Categories include Children; Teens; Family, Food & Field; Fiction; Genre Fiction; History & Biography; Poetry & Prose; Science; and Understanding Our World. One of the event’s highlights has always been a joyful chaos, as crowds navigated the plentiful offerings. But unlike previous years where viewers had to trek from place to place, here it’s easy to see every author that interests you. The list of participating writers is huge, but you can easily access it via a handy alphabetical list.

Aligning the stars

The event’s 25 moderators and interviewers are equally starry. As well as Library of Congress in-house book experts and the majestic Carla Hayden (the 14th Librarian of Congress), they include PBS journalist Judy Woodruff, Poetry Foundation’s Ydalmi Noriega, NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell, and writers from the Washington Post, including the irrepressible Ron Charles, the paper’s highly regarded fiction critic and host/star of the “Totally Hip Book Review” videos.

The Festival has a comprehensive and lively website that allows access to all the events (including live author chats) via a comprehensive, well-designed schedule that allows you to organize views in several ways. You can find live conversations arranged both by author stage and by the day as well as by video on demand (pre-recorded sessions), or by topic threads (videos by theme).

To participate you’ll need to register so you can build your own schedule. Registration and the events are free. It’s open now and so easy even a critic can do it! The first day (September 25) is a daylong celebration of children’s and teen literature that’s been timed to coincide with a school day. Friday’s pre-recorded videos will be released at 9am that day, and the rest of the Festival’s recorded offerings will be released at 9 a.m. on Saturday, September 26. Live sessions, which also begin on Saturday, will be recorded and appear on the platform soon afterward.

Signings and closing talks

They’ve even arranged for a virtual book-signing, a replacement to one of the Festival’s most popular in-person activities. Authors have signed commemorative bookplates that will be sent with books purchased at the Festival through a bound-to-be busy online store operated by D.C.’s venerable and popular bookseller Politics and Prose.

The Festival will close at 6pm on Sunday, when viewers will be directed to watch a PBS-TV special hosted by Walter Isaacson, Sandra Cisneros, and Amy Tan. Featuring authors like John Grisham, Ann Patchett, and two-time Pulitzer winner Colson Whitehead (2020 recipient of the Library’s Prize for American Fiction), the show will stream on demand for users with PBS Passport. An air date on WHYY-TV hasn’t yet been announced. Check your local listings.

Of course, you can also follow the Festival on Facebook and on Twitter @Library of Congress (hashtag #NatBookFest). In the website’s blog section, there’s a helpful entry called “Navigating the Virtual Book Festival.”

So don’t be daunted, readers. Sign up and get ready to geek out on books!

What, When, Where, and Accessibility:

The 20th Anniversary National Book Festival, hosted virtually by Library of Congress runs through September 25-27, 2020. All videos presented with captioning; all talks and events are free, with free online registration required. Check local listings for the Library of Congress National Book Festival: Celebrating American Ingenuity closing program on PBS stations.

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