Record-Setting Crowd for RBG at National Book Festival (photos)

More than 200,000 book lovers descended once again on the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., for the annual Library of Congress National Book Festival. This year’s event, the 19th, took place on Saturday, Aug. 31.

The festival featured more than 100 authors, illustrators and poets, who gave presentations and signed books. An unprecedented 20 new books were launched at the event. The most difficult challenge confronting attendees would be which of the nine simultaneous presentations to attend in the span of 10 hours, with separate programs aimed at children, teens and fans of science, history and biography, fiction and poetry.

As in past years, the festival received wire-to-wire coverage by C-SPAN, both for broadcast and for replay over the web at, on YouTube and on the Library of Congress’s own website.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg drew a record-setting crowd of more than 5,000 people, who applauded her like a rock star. In her usual spirited fashion, “Notorious RBG” shared highlights from her life before and after her appointment as the second woman on the high court. The 86-year-old justice, who has recently been undergoing treatment for cancer, addressed her health issues head on. “How am I feeling? Well, first, this audience can see that I am alive, and I’m on my way to being very well. The term — we have more than a month yet to go. I’ll be prepared when the time comes.”

Other headliners included noted historian David McCullough, columnist David Brooks, University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann, Evan Thomas and Michael Beschloss. Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. participated in a “Race in America” panel. Chef José Andrés apologized for not being available to sign books after his speaking session; he had to catch a flight to the Bahamas to assist in Hurricane Dorian recovery efforts.

Earlier in the day, 14th Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden awarded the prestigious Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction to Richard Ford, author of “Independence Day,” the first novel to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. The award “honors an American literary writer whose body of work is distinguished for its mastery of the art, originality and imagination.”

The National Book Festival is made possible by the generous support of private and public-sector sponsors which share the library’s commitment to reading and literacy, led by National Book Festival co-chairman David Rubenstein. At the festival’s conclusion, Hayden announced that Rubenstein’s “Peer-to-Peer Conversations” interviews for the Bloomberg television network will be permanently added to the Library of Congress collection.

Saying, “We want to celebrate big,” Hayden also announced the date (Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020) for next year’s 20th anniversary National Book Festival. Thanks in large part to the contributions from Rubinstein and others, the event will again be free and open to the public, with no tickets required.

View Jeff Malet’s photos from the 19th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival by clicking on the photo icons below.


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