The Library of Congress will host the 19th annual National Book Festival on Saturday, Aug. 31 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
“[The festival] gets a quarter of a million people in the course of one day,” said Marie Arana, the literary director at the Library of Congress and of the National Book Festival. “I think what really characterizes the festival best is that you see people of all ages, of all races, of all ethnic backgrounds. They crowd into the Washington Convention Center for not a professional conference but...a real people’s festival in which readers meet writers and writers hear from their readers.”
Arana said that this year’s festival will have a theme. “This year the theme is ‘changemakers,’” she said. “We are very deliberately looking at people and circumstances that have changed the world or changed the way we think.”
Within this year’s theme, the festival plans on keeping the stories relevant.
“We’re also very timely in the sense that we are concentrating on immigrant issues, immigrant stories,” Arana said. “We’re concentrating on race in America.”
The “changemakers” speaking this year span from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier.
The last time the festival had a theme was in 2015 to celebrate the festival’s 15th anniversary. That year’s theme was “I cannot live without books,” a phrase said by Thomas Jefferson.
When the first National Book Festival occurred on Sept. 8, 2001, Arana said the festival was inspired by First Lady Laura Bush.
“She had just come from establishing a very successful festival in Austin, Texas - the Texas Book Festival,” she said. “That was her pride and joy, her baby, and it was doing very well.”
Arana said that when Bush became the First Lady in 2001, she wanted to host a book festival for the entire nation. She asked the Librarian of Congress at the time, James Billington, what he thought of such an idea and he supported it.
Since the first festival in 2001, each year’s event has been different from the one previous. This year, the festival has grown to a total of 11 stages, with each stage specializing in a particular genre, such as fiction, history and poetry. This year, they’ve added two new stages for science and international books.
“The international stage is a product of the diplomatic community, which has brought writers from all over the world to be part of this festival,” Arana said. “It’s really wonderful to see people turn out.”
Each performance on the mainstage will be livestreamed for attendees who could not get into the live performance. Arana still encourages people to come to the live event, however.
“The reason I really would urge anybody to attend this festival [is] because there is an element of surprise,” Arana said. “I think that people wander into the hall with an author that is talking about quantum physics and they think, ‘Well, I’m never going to be interested in this, but this is the only thing we can get into.’ Five minutes into the presentation, they are absolutely gobsmackingly in love with quantum physics. You will find authors who are so passionately involved in their subjects.”