National Book Festival Goes Virtual

The National Book Festival celebrates its 20th year later this month but in a totally different format. Because of the pandemic, the giant physical gathering that in the past filled Washington’s Convention Center is going virtual.

Starting September 25, the NBF will present a three-day interactive experience online, marked by on-demand videos and live author discussions and culminating in a two-hour televised broadcast on the evening of September 27. Featuring some of the nation’s most prominent authors and other notable figures, the broadcast will be carried by PBS stations from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and hosted by Hoda Kotb of the NBC News Today show. Learn more about the 2020 National Book Festival.

For the seventh year, Politics and Prose will serve as official bookseller of the festival, which is organized by the Library of Congress. As a special enticement to purchase books highlighted by the festival, P&P will be offering commemorative bookplates signed by authors. Supplies of these are limited and apply only to certain books, so please check availability on P&P’s NBF web pages and place your orders soon.

The theme of this year’s festival is “Celebrating American Ingenuity,” and more than 120 of the nation’s most accomplished writers, poets, and illustrators will be participating. Among those taking part: two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Jason Reynolds, NBC News Today co-host Jenna Bush Hager, master of the legal thriller John Grisham, philanthropist Melinda Gates, prize-winning historian Jon Meacham, bestselling novelist Ann Patchett, two-time Newbery winner Kate DiCamillo, Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie, graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, fantasy novelist Leigh Bardugo, disability rights advocate Haben Girma, National Book Award-winning novelist James McBride, and Emmy Award-winning science writer, producer, and director Ann Druyan.

As in years past, the authors and their presentations have been divided into categories, or “stages”—the children and teens stages for kids’ books, and seven stages for adult books (fictiongenre fictionscienceunderstanding our worldpoetry & prosehistory & biography, and a new stage called family, food & field). Additionally this year, you’ll also be able to browse the authors by themes, or “threads”:

  • Fearless Women (books by and about strong women and resolute trailblazers);
  • Hearing Black Voices (books that showcase Black voices across all genres, affirming Black contributions to American culture);
  • Democracy in the 21st Century (books that assess the state of democratic principles in America and around the world).


Not to be missed, too, are the Roadmap to Reading exhibits, books representing the literary heritage of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The works have been selected by state libraries, and many are for children and young readers.

You may remember shopping at P&P’s book sales area during past festivals, weaving through tables stacked high with books and jostling in packed checkout lines with fellow book lovers. Here’s some good news: This year you still can buy all festival books through P&P’s website—without the crowds! Shop online.

Please join us in this annual celebration of reading and great literature. To participate, be sure to register on the National Book Festival platform. Access is free, but we encourage you to donate to the Library of Congress. Just click on the “donate” button on P&P’s NBF web pages.

Use the hashtag #NatBookFest to discuss the festival, and follow P&P on Twitter to participate in our watch party of the PBS broadcast on the evening of September 27.

— Brad and Lissa