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National Book Festival: History, Photos from Past Years

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This guest post was written by 2020 Junior Fellows Sally Johnson and Saraya Flaig, who worked in the Signature Programs Office this summer with the project of archiving the National Book Festival. It was first published on the National Book Festival blog.

This year the National Book Festival hits an important milestone of 20 years. Those two decades encompass a rich history and evolution as the festival has grown and adapted to fit the ever-changing needs of the literary community and American people.

The NBF was founded in 2001 by then-first lady Laura Bush and then-Librarian of Congress James H. Billington as a joint effort between the White House and the Library. Over the years, the festival has evolved into the nation’s premier literary event. It began on the Library grounds and in its buildings on Capitol Hill, expanding soon thereafter to the lawn of the Capitol and then to the National Mall. The Washington Convention Center has hosted the event in recent years, and now, in 2020, the Library will host its first virtual festival.

A rainbow shines over the Capitol building as festival goers move between pavilions at the 2008 National Book Festival. Photo: Nancy Alfaro.

The goal of our project was to archive the NBF in a way that would make its history accessible online. We decided a history web page was the best answer; we wanted to create an interactive page with which people could connect.  The page allowed us to curate content from hundreds of presentations over the years in an accessible and engaging way

The biggest task we faced was creating a photo gallery for each past year of the festival. We sorted through thousands of photos to find the best moments. The resulting gallery allows visitors to “walk through the festival and experience all of the activities and fun the festival offered that year.

Colson Whitehead speaks in the Poetry & Prose tent at the 2012 NBF. Photo: Cecelia Rogers.

Another aspect of our project was repackaging older content as well as creating new material for this first-ever virtual festival. Thanks to the 2018 Signature Programs Junior Fellows, the Signature Programs Office already had an impressive collection of interviews and history archived and ready to go. We decided to repackage some of that content into a more engaging and user-friendly format, including a video-driven section on the festival’s website as well as shareable infographics. We also wanted to expand upon the already extensive collection of interviews in the digital archives by creating a space on the website for additional reflections by authors and Library employees. These reflections focus on the history, experience and impact of the festival.

You can learn more about our archiving project by watching the video below.

You can get up-to-the-minute news, schedule updates and other important NBF information by subscribing to this blog. The festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors. You can support the festival, too, by making a gift now.


  1. Do you need more photos from the early Book Festivals? I can look if you want. I’m pretty sure I have a good photo of Toni Morrison from the 2011 National Book Festival as well as some misc images. If you’re interested, you have my email.

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