National Book Festival returns to in-person experience (photos)


“Reading all the good books is like talking to the best men of centuries past.” ― René Descartes

In its 20-year history, the Library of Congress National Book Festival has become one of the most important literary events in the country. This past Labor Day weekend, for the first time in three years, the festival once again became an in-person event once again drawing thousands of book lovers to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., on Saturday September 3. Since the start of the pandemic, the privately funded event has been forced to retreat to an online-only format. Founded by First Lady Laura Bush, herself a former librarian, the National Book Festival began in 2001 on the grounds of the Library of Congress and its Capitol Hill buildings, soon expanding to the Capitol lawn, then on the National Mall, finally moving indoors to its current location in 2014.

This year’s festival featured more than 100 speakers, including best-selling authors, children’s writers, historians, illustrators, novelists and poets. Related to this year’s theme — “Books bring us together!” Topics discussed included civil rights, cultural diversity and climate change.

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

Actor Nick Offerman, who played outdoor-slash-office manager Ron Swanson in “Parks and Recreation,” in his new book, “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play,” has opened up about his connection to the American natural landscape. Offerman shared the podium with a park ranger. Several of his legions of fans lined up for over three and a half hours for Offerman to sign their books.

Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss spoke about “Path Lit By Lightning,” his new biography of Jim Thorpe, by some measure, one of the greatest and most abused athletes 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 the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics and compete in 17 separate events. He was later stripped of his medals for minor violations of the rules of contemporary amateurism which were not applied to other athletes at the time.

Historian Candice Millard provided a gripping account of long-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 at the super-sensory world of animals and insects.

Marc Brown, the creator of “Arthur,” the animated children’s television series, celebrated the 25th anniversary of his award-winning series at the festival. Local news host Alison Starling, who hosted her speech, brought along her two young daughters.

Professor Jack Davis gave an interesting presentation on Americans’ relationship with 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 LOC and can be accessed at and on Youtube .

In the years before the pandemic, the National Book Festival drew more than 200,000 attendees. Attendance this year was significantly below pre-pandemic levels, in part due to a slightly lightened schedule and a continued aversion by some to attending indoor public gatherings. Gone this year are 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 Covid-19 outbreak and was bolstered by the attendance 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 the photo icons below. be replayed online.

Key wordsauthorsbooksLibrary of CongressliteraryLOCnational book festivalNBF

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