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Poetry & Prose at the National Book Festival

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The following post was written by Guy Lamolinara, communications officer in the Center for the Book. It first appeared on the National Book Festival blog.

Poetry & Prose. The name is appropriately alliterative for this long-running stage at the Library of Congress National Book Festival that features some of our most literary writers.

It’s the stage that features authors with a special ability to speak to us in ways that touch our innermost feelings. In an age of global pandemic, we need these writers more than ever.

Why can these poets and writers help? Because we can see ourselves in their works. We see we are not alone. There is comfort in shared emotions.

The Poetry & Prose stage has attracted authors and poets who speak to the times. The National Endowment for the Arts sponsors the stage, and the endowment has been a book festival sponsor since the event’s first occurrence in 2001.

“We are proud of our long history of supporting the National Book Festival’s Poetry & Prose stage, which over the years has been an important avenue to highlight writers, particularly poets, many of whom are recipients of our Literature Fellowships,” said Mary Anne Carter, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “We are excited to celebrate the 20th year of the festival and the opportunity to bring together readers from across the nation during this weekend of events.”

Novelists Valeria Luiselli, Aminatta Forna and R.O. Kwon speak on a panel discussion at the National Book Festival, August 31, 2019. Photo by Kimberly T. Powell/Library of Congress.

Last year’s Poetry & Prose stage hosted Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown; novelists Aminatta Forna, R.O. Kwon and Valeria Luiselli; and former Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and poet Jenny Xie. To explore more lineups from prior Poetry & Prose stages, go to the National Book Festival history page. You can also search other stages.

This year, the stage offers a current and a former U.S. Poet Laureate, who just happen to be lifelong friends: current laureate Joy Harjo and former laureate Rita Dove. They will be in conversation.

Rita Dove and Joy Harjo were both graduate students at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the 1970s and attended classes together. In this National Book Festival program they discuss their time at the Workshop, as well as their discovery of the University of Iowa International Writing Program (where Rita met her husband, writer Fred Viebahn). They also discuss their experiences as U.S. Poets Laureate. Rita was among the youngest ever to hold the position, and she kicked off a golden era of “activist” laureates, while Joy is the current laureate—and in a different stage of her life and career, looking to continue the “activist” laureate tradition with her soon-to-launch laureate project, “Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First Peoples Poetry.”

We will also hear from poets Franny Choi and Danez Smith on their recent poetry collections, as well as prose writers Susan Minot and Karen Russell on their new short story collections, Mark Doty and Jennifer Shapland on their books about, respectively, Walt Whitman and Carson McCullers, and Carmen Maria Machado and Elizabeth Tallent on their memoirs.

The 20th National Book Festival is an all-virtual affair and truly national in its reach. On Friday, Sept. 25, through Sunday, Sept. 27, a community of writers and book lovers will come together to celebrate the power of books and their unique role in enriching our lives. The celebration will culminate on Sept. 27 with a special program on PBS at 6-8 p.m. ET (check local listings) featuring many of our most fascinating authors and poets.

Be sure to check the National Book Festival blog for updates and for information on registration. We hope to see you “there” no matter where you live!