Bibliophiles, hear ye, hear ye! Your time to venture out from your bedroom and into the world is finally here.
Headlined by several eye-catching stars — including actors-turned-authors Nick Offerman, Janelle Monáe and Nyle DiMarco, along with Pulitzer-Prize winning Geraldine Brooks and internet sensation Sabaa Tahir — the National Book Festival took place Sept. 3, 2022 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Hosted by the Library of Congress, the free event brought together a multitude of authors from various literary backgrounds and genres for the public to enjoy.
“Books Bring Us Together,” the tagline of the festival, was an obvious nod to a world overwhelmed with issues of racial inequality, political division, and miscellaneous viruses. If music is considered the universal language of the world, then books should be all the same; with the advent of accessible book translations, stories are what draw us together.
In essence, the festival was a celebration of the human experience. Roundtable discussions relating to authors’ work or advice they wished to impart occupied the bulk of the festival. These talks were catered towards specific audiences, ranging from Spanish literature to nature conservation to mystery in media.
One talk, in particular, was about writing children’s literature. While I only passed by the event space, the interaction I heard brought a smile to my face.
During the event, a child in the audience — sounding professional, curious and slightly hesitant — asked the author on stage her advice for young authors. The author, clearly enamored and flattered by the question, was almost too joyful to speak. The National Book Festival is an event for all readers, of all backgrounds and ages, to connect with writers and participate in an inspirational circle of feedback.
Though, if one did not want to sit in on any of the miscellaneous lectures, one — like myself — would have found themselves in the book sale and signing section.
The book sale section, sponsored by the Washington D.C. bookstore Politics and Prose, contained a hefty collection of titles being spotlighted at the conference. Above each book was a card detailing when you could get the novel signed by the author, an incredibly useful way to create a schedule for an otherwise hectic day. Once I got my selections, the waiting began.
The most popular author of the bunch was arguably Nick Offerman. I enlisted my friend Alexa to attend the festival with me, and we waited over three hours in his line for a signature. However, the experience was a doozy: Offerman is a naturally deadpan speaker, so trying to decipher whether he offered his personal comments to us with adoration or sarcasm was a tough challenge. Regardless, seeing someone as famous as Offerman in an intimate setting was a privilege, and it is one that I am grateful to the Library of Congress for offering for free.
Thankfully, the line waiting did not merely consist of sitting in silence for hours. While waiting for a signature from Geraldine Brooks for her book “Horse,” I made acquaintances with two people in line. We had a wonderful chat about Brooks, brands of coffee, journalism, college, Georgetown and popular culture; the sense of camaraderie stemming from the love of books was palpable.
One aspect of our conversation worth noting, though, was the impressionable age-gap of the conference attendees. It seemed that the demographic spanning from high school to late-twenties was nonexistent at the festival. Since the event was on a Saturday, it was hard to tell if this was because other college students were preparing for weekend parties or simply did not have interest in this immersive literary experience.
Nonetheless, the signatures that I received — the aforementioned Brooks for “Horse,” Gal Beckerman for “The Quiet Before” and Will Bunch for “After The Ivory Tower Falls” — all consisted of productive and wonderful conversations. Meeting these authors was more than worth the time spent.
Though book sales are rapidly declining, there is still magic in the written word, and book festivals are just one way of keeping that experience alive.
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