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We Cannot Live Without Folklife: AFC at the 2015 National Book Festival

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Steve NBF crop
Stephen Winick presenting at the 2014 National Book Festival. They tell me the stage is fancier this year– I can’t wait! The photo is by Jennifer Cutting for AFC.

This weekend, the Library of Congress is excited to be producing the 15th annual National Book Festival, the most expansive event in the festival’s history. The festival is Saturday, Sept. 5, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. (doors open at 9 a.m.). The event is free and open to the public. More than 175 authors, poets and illustrators will be presenting in its 18 pavilions and programs. I’m happy to say that I’ll be presenting there as well, giving an introduction to the American Folklife Center, its activities, and its unparalleled archive.

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This year’s delightful poster is by Peter de Sève for the 2015 Library of Congress National Book Festival, Saturday, September 5.

The theme of the festival is “I cannot live without books.” This quotation from Thomas Jefferson has become a popular catchphrase around the Library, and you can buy “I Cannot Live Without Books” merchandise in our gift shop. At AFC, we also love books, but we like to point out that we literally cannot live without folklife: our distant ancestors passed on their strategies for hunting, gathering, preserving food, and keeping warm in winter through oral tradition, and such survival skills as ice fishing, making a spear, and distinguishing edible plants from poison ones are all passed on through folklore. Even outside the realm of mere survival, all the great things we can find in books, from information to inspiration, and from wisdom to whimsy, can also be found in folklife.

There’s no place on earth where this is clearer than at the Library of Congress, home to one of the world’s largest collections of folklife materials, the AFC archive. That’s what I’ll be talking about in my presentation, We Cannot Live Without Folklife: Treasures From the American Folklife Center Archive, which will be from 2:50 to 3:40 on the stage in the in the Library of Congress Pavilion. The presentation will feature some of the “greatest hits” of AFC’s collections of traditional music, oral history, and folklore. Plus, I’ll talk about some of the book authors with surprising connections to the archive, including Zora Neale Hurston, Alistair Cooke, and Arthur Miller. Come by and see me, and learn all about AFC’s great collections and programs!

I’ll be just one part of a day-long lineup of Library of Congress programming, featuring colleagues from the Law Library, the Publishing Office, the Copyright Office, the Music Division, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, the National Digital Newspaper Program, the Education & Outreach office, and the World Digital Library. The day will conclude with a presentation from 5:25-6:00 pm by Lisa Parker of the Veterans History Project–another one not to miss!  And speaking of VHP, they’ll also be running a 5-part program on “The Human Side of War” featuring several of the nation’s foremost writers on war.  Read about that session here!

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AFC’s director, Betsy Peterson, and cataloger Cathy Kerst staffing the AFC Table at the 2014 National Book Festival. Come by and visit them this Saturday!

My presentation is only one part of AFC’s presence at the Festival. Like last year, we’ll have a table in the pavilion from 3:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m., where you can talk to AFC staff members, find out more about our collections, and even pick up some of our brand-new AFC bookmarks. Before and after my presentation, I’ll be donning pirate garb and walking around the festival interacting with authors, patrons, and especially kids, a tradition Jennifer Cutting and I have observed for several years now. We’ll spread the word about the joy of reading, tell people about our favorite literary pirates, and maybe even sing a pirate song or two.

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At the 2012 National Book Festival, Jennifer Cutting and I terrorized author, actor, comedian, and director Bob Balaban. See how scared he is?

The festival website is You can also get the author schedules and other festival information at this post on the Library’s Facebook page. Please come say hello, and ask for a Folklife Today bookmark.  We’d love to see you there!


  1. I´m agree books are good friends open his pages soon like a gift for your life.

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