Why I Love My District of Literature

The following is a guest post by Abby Yochelson, English and American Literature Reference Specialist at the Library of Congress’s Main Reading Room.

While the upcoming District of Literature program on September 30th celebrates literature throughout the District of Columbia, my district on Capitol Hill is astonishing. I both work at the Library of Congress and live blocks away near Eastern Market, and I see daily evidence that the book culture on the Hill is vibrant.

The Library holds unending offerings of literary programs—from the Poet Laureate readings and lectures sponsored by the Poetry and Literature Center to the “Books & Beyond” series by the Center for the Book, as well as numerous book talks sponsored by other Library divisions. Nearby Folger Shakespeare Library is home to the O. B. Hardison Poetry series, and the Folger hosts readings by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation—together they bring world-renowned authors to Capitol Hill. (Both organizations, and the Poetry and Literature Center, are the driving forces behind District of Literature.) The Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital, which opened in 2011, holds its own series of literary events as well as hosts programs offered by the Library and the Folger. The Hill Center has even begun scheduling writing classes offered by The Writer’s Center, headquartered in Bethesda.

Capitol Hill resident Karen Lyon has been writing the monthly column, “The Literary Hill,” for the local newspaper The Hill Rag for more than thirteen years. She has never had a shortage of new books to review or Hill-based authors to interview. In fact, as a reference librarian at the Library of Congress, I have been told by many writers that they choose to live on Capitol Hill specifically for the proximity to the Library for their research. And not only are books written and read on Capitol Hill, numerous books are set here. Through DC By the Book, a new project to map books set in Washington, DC, you can search the neighborhood of Capitol Hill or our zip codes—20002 and 20003—and find books with scenes set in this district. This project is crowd-sourced, so many additional novels set throughout the city await volunteers to enter them.

In 2011, Karen and a small band of planners decided to bring “The Literary Hill” to life, and the now-annual and wildly successful Literary Hill BookFest was born. More than 40 authors participate each year, and the Southeast and Northeast branches of the DC Public Library, along with the Folger and the Library of Congress, have information tables. So does the Capitol Hill Writers Group, which includes published and unpublished writers and welcomes additional members. May 4th has already been set for next year’s BookFest, and as the coordinator of volunteers I would be happy to work with you in 2014!

Library of Congress Table, Literary Hill BookFest, 2011

Main Reading Room reference librarians staff the Library of Congress table at the 2011 Literary Hill BookFest

While much of America bemoans the loss of independent bookstores, three bookstores on Capitol Hill continue to delight regular customers and weekend browsers. The Fairy Godmother specializes in children’s books. Capitol Hill Books is a used bookstore and looks like something filmed for the Hoarders television show, but there is method to the piles. The cozy Riverby Books carries used books as well as titles by Capitol Hill authors and features afternoon tea and occasional concerts on the patio. Local residents love the extensive and inexpensive used book sale run by the Friends of the Southeast Branch of the DC Public Library on the second Saturday of each month.

Without a doubt, my neighborhood of Capitol Hill is a delightful district of literature for writers and readers!

Lit Links for the Work Week

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