It began 15 years ago with a breakfast for authors at the White House, a few tents on the East Lawn of the Capitol, and book presentations in the Library of Congress. In time it spread to the National Mall, where tens of thousands of people gathered under giant, tented pavilions to hear talks by some of the nation’s most prominent writers.
After moving indoors last year to Washington’s Convention Center, the National Book Festival will again convene there on Saturday, September 5, bigger and more inviting than ever before. More than 175 authors will be on hand for events that will occupy 13 stages and stretch from mid-morning to late evening.
For the second consecutive year, Politics & Prose will be serving as official bookseller at the festival, selling books for people to get signed by their favorite authors. We’ve spent the summer ordering more than 450 titles totaling nearly 35,000 books. It’s the largest operation that P&P has ever attempted, but with a team of about 100 people enlisted to operate the festival’s sales area, we’re looking forward to making book-buying there easy and enjoyable for all who come.
The festival’s theme this year is taken from Thomas Jefferson’s famous line, “I cannot live without books,” in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the acquisition by Congress of Jefferson’s personal library. The 6,487 volumes were considered to be the most comprehensive library in America at the time, and Jefferson’s broad approach to book collecting continues to guide the Library of Congress, the principal organizer of the National Book Festival.
Among the highlights of this year’s festival:
At least seven authors will launch new books there, including Thomas Mallon’s Finale, David Maraniss’s Once in a Great City, Jay Winik’s 1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History, Tom Gjelten’s A Nation of Nations, Erika Lee’s The Making of Asian America, Casey Schwartz’s In the Mind Fields: Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis, and Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World.
A terrific assemblage of writers about war will pay tribute to U.S. warriors. The group includes veteran NBC broadcaster Tom Brokaw (The Greatest Generation), Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and historian Rick Atkinson (Army at Dawn, The Day of Battle, The Guns at Last Light), history professor Christian Appy (American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity) National Book Award finalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran (For Love of Country), and West Point professor Elizabeth Samet (Soldier’s Heart) leading a panel with novelists Elliot Ackerman (Green on Blue), Roxana Robinson (Sparta) and Phil Klay (Redeployment).
U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera will make his first public appearance in Washington since he was appointed in June, speaking to kids and parents in the children’s pavilion.
Stories from Australia will be showcased in a series of presentations by a group of indigenous authors, including Tony Birch (The Promise) and Bruce Pascoe (Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident?)
Kate DiCamillo will celebrate the 10th anniversary of her Mercy Watson series, and Story Pirates will put on a special show inspired by the fictional porcine character that Kate made famous.
Members of Circus Harmony (a group of inner-city and suburban children from St. Louis) and Circus Galilee (Jewish and Arabic children from Israel) will perform on the teens stage.
A Youth Poetry Slam, presented by DC-based Split This Rock, will bring together poets from Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Washington in a spirited competition.
A new evening program devoted to romance fiction and led by NPR’s Petra Mayer will include bestselling novelists Beverly Jenkins, Paige Tyler, and Sarah MacLean.
An evening program on graphic novels will be moderated by Michael Cavna, the Washington Post’s Comic Riffs blogger, and feature Lalo Alcaraz, Stephan Pastis, and Trina Robbins among others.
And there’s much, much more. We’re also previewing some of the festival's talented writers with brief interviews in anticipation of the big day. Enjoy our latest Q&A with Marlon James, currently longlisted for the Booker Prize, and a conversation with Sonia Manzano, perhaps better known as Maria on Sesame Street for forty years.
For complete information about the festival, visit the NBF’s website here. Hope to see you at the Convention Center on September 5.
— Brad and Lissa