The 2021 National Book Festival: Big Names, Great Books, Stellar Conversations

Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. Photo: Andrew Testa.

No matter what kind of books and authors you love, the Library’s 2021 National Book Festival has a star-studded cast that you can watch – and chat with – in a 10-day series of events starting Sept. 17.

Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro, who has dazzled us over the years with “Remains of the Day” and “Never Let Me Go,” will be online to talk about his new book, “Klara and the Sun.” Joy Williams, the 2021 recipient of the Library’s Prize for American Fiction, debuts her new novel, “Harrow,” the week of the festival. Film stars Lupita Nyong’o and Michael J. Fox will be on hand to talk about their latest books, as will fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg. The New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe, whose “Say Nothing” was a riveting account of Northern Ireland’s political violence, is here with his new bestseller, “Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty.”

In all, the festival will feature more than 100 authors, poets and writers in a range of formats under the theme of “Open a Book, Open the World.” The virtual programs will roll out over 10 days from Sept. 17-26.

Lupita Nyong’o. Photo:: Nick Barose.

Not sure what you want to see? You can get an hour-long preview of the festival with guest host LeVar Burton and Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in a PBS special on Sept. 14 (check local listings). The pair will be back to kick off the festival in a live conversation on Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. ET.

Almost everything is online again this year, due to COVID-19 concerns, and will range from videos on demand to author conversations in real time and live question-and-answer sessions. Live events will also be recorded for viewing on demand, so you can check them out later. In addition to the schedule, linked to above, there’s the National Book Festival blog to keep you up to date with developments. You can also sign up for updates.

There’s the usual array of powerhouse writers, ranging from literary fiction, history and biography, science, lifestyle, teens and children, poetry and so on. Pulitzer Prize-winning historians Annette Gordon-Reed and Kai Bird will be here, as will organizational psychologist Adam Grant, whose bestselling books “Originals” and “Think Again” have challenged the way we think about…well, thinking.

Somalia-born model and food entrepreneur Hawa Hassan will talk about how she got her Basbaas Foods business going, along with her cookbook, “In Bibi’s Kitchen.” Also on the kitchen front, Trisha Yearwood will take a break from her singing career (a mere 15 million albums sold) to talk up her new cookbook, “Trisha’s Kitchen.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen. Photo: BeBe Jacobs.

In Young Adult fiction, Angie Thomas, latest in a long line of Mississippi authors, comes to us with “Concrete Rose,” a prequel to her debut bestseller, “The Hate U Give.” There’s also Traci Chee, of the Reader Trilogy fame, and, of course, Jason Reynolds, the Library’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, will be here, too.

In fiction, it’s just crazy. In addition to Ishiguro and Williams, there’s Tana French, Roxane Gay, Yaa Gyasi, Elliot Ackerman, Alice McDermott, Viet Thanh Nguyen and George Saunders, among more than a dozen others.

For those of you in the D.C. area, there are a pair of live conversations scheduled. Crossword puzzle lovers will get a kick out of a Sept. 21 evening talk with maestros Adrienne Raphel and Will Shortz. Raphel is author of “Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them,” and Shortz is the longtime New York Times crossword puzzle editor.

The second event, Sept. 25, is Nikki Giovanni, the legendary poet and author, in conversation with Hayden. Chief on her mind will be her new book, “Make Me Rain: Poems & Prose.” The setting for both is still being determined, again due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation.

Be sure to bookmark the festival blog and website. See you there!

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"Open a Book, Open the World" poster, depicting books as flowers, their pages opening like leaves

The poster for 2021 National Book Festival. Artist: Dana Tanamachi.

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