National Book Festival Returns to an In-Person Experience (photos)


“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries.” ― René Descartes

Over the course of its 20-year history, the Library of Congress National Book Festival has become one of the most prominent literary events in the nation. This past Labor Day weekend, for the first time in three years, the festival once again became an in-person event drawing thousands of book lovers to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., on Saturday September 3. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, the privately funded event had been forced to retreat to an on-line-only format. Founded by former first lady Laura Bush, a former librarian, the National Book Festival began in 2001 on the Library of Congress grounds and in its buildings on Capitol Hill, expanding soon thereafter to the lawn of the Capitol and then to the National Mall, finally moving indoors to its present location in 2014.    

This year’s festival featured more than 100 speakers, including bestselling authors, children’s writers, historians, illustrators, novelists and poets. Aligned with this year’s theme — “Books bring us together!”  some of the subjects tackled included civil rights, cultural diversity and climate change.

Mitch Albom delivered one of the more inspiring presentations, reflecting on his seminal work, “Tuesdays with Morrie,” one of the bestselling memoirs of all time, even now, 25 years after its original publication. 

Actor Nick Offerman, who played the mustachioed outdoorsman-slash-office manager Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation,” discussed his new book, “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play.” He explored his connection to America’s natural landscape and shared the podium with a park ranger. Several of his legions of fans waited in line for over three and a-half hours to have Offerman sign their books.

Pulitzer Prize-winner David Maraniss discussed “Path Lit By Lightning,” his new biography of Native American athlete Jim Thorpe, by some measure, one of the greatest and most mistreated sports figures of all time. Harshly treated in a series of boarding schools designed to assimilate Native American children and youth into Euro-American culture, Thorpe would later win gold in both the pentathlon and decathlon at the Stockholm 1912 Olympic Games where he competed in 17 separate events. He was later stripped of his medals for minor violations of contemporary amateurism rules that were not applied to other athletes at the time.

Historian Candice Millard provided a captivating account of long-since-forgotten explorers in her “River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile.”

Ed Yong’s “An Immense World” took an insightful look into the super-sensory world of animals and insects. 

Marc Brown, the creator of “Arthur,” the animated TV series for children, celebrated the 25th anniversary of his award-winning series at the festival. Local news anchor Alison Starling who moderated his talk brought along her two young daughters.

Professor Jack Davis gave an interesting presentation about Americans’ relationship to the bald eagle and how it became a national symbol.

Author presentations and panel discussions were streamed live and archived by C-SPAN and the Library of Congress and can be accessed at https://www.c-span.org/series/?bookfairs and on youtube .

In the years before the pandemic, the National Book Festival was drawing upwards of 200,000 attendees. This year’s attendance was noticeably below pre-pandemic levels due in part to a slightly slimmed down program and a lingering aversion by some to attend indoor public gatherings. Gone this year were the long lines associated with previous festivals. An apples-to-apples comparison to the last in-person event in 2019 would be unfair. That year’s event preceded the outbreak of Covid-19 and was bolstered by the participation of Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in one of her final public appearances.

View a slideshow of Jeff Malet’s photos from the 2022 Library of Congress National Book Festival by clicking on the photo icons below.

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