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Selfie photo of Meg Medina and Ada Limón smiling together
National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Meg Medina and U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón living their best life. Photo courtesy of Meg Medina.

A Year in Literary Programs: Highlights from U.S. Poet Laureate, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and Us!

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Dear readers,

The Literary Initiatives Team did so many new and exciting things this year—for one, we created this blog. We at “Bookmarked” decided to close out the year by asking all of our staff members, including our current Poet Laureate and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, to pick their faves. Hopefully you recognize some of the below (which we’ve covered in the blog), and hopefully you learn about some programs/initiatives you didn’t know about. Enjoy!

Ada Limón, U.S. Poet Laureate
There were so many highlights for me in 2023, it’s hard to name them all. One was attending the Joni Mitchell concert where she received the Gershwin Prize. The next day, I was able to meet Joni Mitchell at the Library of Congress while seeing an impressive display of early sheet music and concert posters that all related to her life and career. The next highlight for me was seeing the space displays during the NASA event at the Library of Congress where I read my poem for the Europa Clipper Mission. Seeing the golden record was a true inspiration!

Ada Limón with Joni Mitchell. Photo credit: Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

Meg Medina, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature
My highlight of the year at the Library of Congress was my inauguration as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature this past January. This was a day to celebrate and look forward and also to begin to feel like one of the family at the Library. It was my first step at truly believing that the Library belongs to me and to everyone in our country. Playfulness began that day.

Three women pose as Charlies' Angels in a wood & cream room and the blue Library of Congress flag in the background
Mediator Kate Fletcher, my agent Jennifer Rofé and I posing as Charlie’s Angels inside the very formal Whittal Room. Photo courtesy of Meg Medina.

Anya Creightney, poetry and literature expert and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature program manager
I had a hard time picking a single favorite so I picked 50 programs! The 2023 National Book Festival featured 70 authors, a freshly configured expo floor, a one-of-a kind special performance by literary non-profit Literature to Life, new children’s programming that featured authors reading their picture books alongside local literary non-profits. It was also special because 2022 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction winner Jesmyn Ward gave a lecture about the power of fiction in our everyday lives. Ward told the audience that she writes fiction because she is part of a long line of storytellers who “tell it straight” and “tell it all.” Ward believes that telling it like it is, however difficult, can transfigure painful histories into acts of love. Her speech is moving and searing, tender and thoughtful. And lucky for me, I got to spend time with Ward over the course of the festival, even interviewing her for a separate event. I can report she is exactly how you imagine after reading her books—attentive, piercing and kind! Check out her 2023 National Book Festival event, followed by an interview with the Librarian of Congress, here!

Photo of Jesmyn Ward speaking at a podium with National Book Festival 2023 artwork, with a Library of Congress National Book Festival step and repeat in the background
Jesmyn Ward speaks at the 2023 Library of Congress National Book Festival, August 12. Photo credit: Kimberly Powell/Library of Congress.

Clay Smith, Chief of Literary Initiatives and the Library’s Literary Director
For a while, the biggest mystery about Mystery Night, the Library’s October 26 event, was whether it would happen at all. Could we pull off four big events in one night about one genre when usually we only produce one event on a given night? Legendary writer of the Inspector Gamache novels, Louise Penny, talked about her novels; with the help of Game Genius, a Washington nonprofit, we made a mystery-themed puzzle hunt whose participants had to wander all over the Thomas Jefferson Building; we asked three novelists to talk about how they concoct murder in their novels; and we hosted the popular show, Who Did It?: An Improvised Murder Mystery. It felt wonderful to turn the Library over for a night to mystery fans. In 2024, we’ll announce the Library’s next themed night on this blog!

Erick Acuña Productions’ “Who Did It?: An Improvised Murder Mystery” entertains the audience in the Coolidge Auditorium, October 26, 2023. Photo credit: Edmond Joe/Library of Congress.

Deziree Arnaiz, sci-fi and fantasy expert, and National Book Festival content manager
My favorite event of 2023 was the National Book Festival—specifically, John Scalzi’s talk at the end of the day. There’s something about the energy of an audience laughing together in a room that you can feel down to your bones and know everyone’s having a good time. It’s a fast-paced and fun conversation that jumps from learning how Scalzi wrote “The Kaiju Preservation Society” in five weeks (after admitting he just couldn’t write the gritty political thriller due in six weeks) to the moderator, Linda Holmes, realizing on stage that Scalzi never specified the gender of the book’s main character. In 2024, I’m looking forward to programing more speculative fiction and conversations that are fun and thought-provoking.

Photo of Linda Holmes seated on stage with Jon Scalzi, who is gesturing animatedly. Library of Congress National Book Festival step and repeat is in the background.
John Scalzi speaks with NPR’s Linda Holmes at the 2023 Library of Congress National Book Festival, August 12. Photo credit: Kimberly Powell/Library of Congress.

Rob Casper, Head of Poetry and Literature
This past year was a big one for our Poet Laureate, and there have been quite a few highlights I could name (including going for double our goal for the “Message in a Bottle” campaign, to get to 2 million+ signatures). But for this post I’d like to highlight our October 19th “Live! at the Library” event at the Library featuring fiction writer Ann Patchett and former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Kate DiCamillo in conversation —who happen to be old friends. They had so much to say about how writers support one another—even when working in different genres. The capacity crowd was a great mix of young DiCamillo fans (and their families) and adult fans of Patchett, and everyone picked up on the playful vibe between the two authors. My big contribution to the event: to suggest that the authors hop out from either side of the Coolidge Auditorium’s “doors of god” for their entrance. Watch the webcast and check it out—and of course you’ll want to stay for the conversation…

Ann Patchett and Kate DiCamillo having fun onstage in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium. Photo credit: Edmond Joe/Library of Congress. 

Sasha Dowdy, children’s and teen literature expert (and, humbly, manager of this blog)
My year was full of wonderful programs, but one stands out: November’s Native American Heritage Month program with Traci Sorell and Charles Waters, who co-authored the novel in verse “Mascot.” This was a Jonah Solkoff Eskin Memorial Program, and you can view the author talk here.

Children's poet Charles Waters and author Traci Sorell smile as they facilitate a conversation at a table with 5 elementary/middle school students.
Charles Waters and Traci Sorell facilitating student conversation. Photo credit: Naomi Wulansari.

We invited 80 students from three local D.C. schools to attend the program, where they sat at round tables and discussed the discrimination and stereotyping they witness in their daily lives. One student said that LGBTQIA + students are under- and over-represented because they are not generally prioritized but are always asked to weigh in on LGBTQIA+ issues. Another student talked about facing discrimination directly from teachers and struggling to find trusted adults with the power to help them. The students warmed up to author-facilitated conversations quickly and worked together to come up with possible solutions. After the program, when asked if he enjoyed the program, one student said it confirmed for him that some of the things he thought were wrong were actually wrong, and it helped him to see those things the right way.

Students don’t often have the floor during an author program, so it was a meaningful opportunity to hear their voices and ideas. I hope to see more programs like this, and I am rooting for these kids!

Tell us about your highlights of 2023, especially if you visited the Library in person or remotely or attended any of our events. We look forward to another wonderful year with all of your support!

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