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A Long-time Festivalgoer’s Perspective

The following post is a Q&A with Jacqueline Miller Byrd, a self described lover of the book festival and fan of the Library of Congress. After reading several festival blog posts, she emailed me to share just how much she has enjoyed the festival over the years with friends and family. I thought the blog would be a great place to share some of her experiences as we gear up for the big event tomorrow!

How long have you been attending the Library of Congress National Book festival?

My festival attendance began in 2003 after watching then first lady Laura Bush (a former teacher and librarian) on television ‘advocating the importance of literacy and education to advance opportunity for America’s young people to become lifelong learners.’ Bush’s “Spoken from the Heart” memoir conveys her love of reading and I connected with her outreach about the National Book Festival because reading books at home, in D.C. Public Schools and at the Benning Road Public Library in Northeast Washington, D.C. saved my life and transformed my world view. As a lifelong learner, I look forward to visiting the Festival each year to see award-winning authors.

I even wrote and thanked former first lady Laura Bush for founding the National Book Festival and promoting literacy and books. Did you know that Laura Bush is holding an open book in her official First Lady Portrait at the Smithsonian Museum of American History? We share a love of books.

Library of Congress two-term U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway greeting National Book Festival lover Jacqueline Miller Byrd  the 2011 National Book Festival.

Library of Congress two-term U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway greeting National Book Festival lover Jacqueline Miller Byrd the 2011 National Book Festival.

How would you describe the National Book Festival as a whole?

The National Book Festival is the perfect adventure and outing for individuals, families and friends, from children to seniors. For me, the National Book Festival represents a valued representation of the American Dream. There are book lovers and ordinary people turned approachable authors, special programs, family friendly activities and books sales, with all races and cultures gathered together and connected in peace by their love of reading and books.

I love the giveaways and the chance to hear, meet and greet the authors from the stage and up-close and in-person as they say ‘hello’ and sign their books.

How has the festival affected your life personally?

I read the “Festival Scouting,” blog post (//blogs.loc.gov/national-book-festival/2015/08/festival-scouting/) and noted that Scouts can now earn a National Book Festival Patch. I wish the National Book Festival existed when I was a Brownie growing up in the nation’s capital. I bought a 2015 National Book Festival Patch as a reminder of my Scout days and in support of the Library of Congress and Girl Scouts educational endeavors. I believe that the Festival is helping to develop and inspire early readers and leaders.

I have been so impressed and inspired by my National Book Festival experiences that each year I have invited family, friends, the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System Book Discussion Groups (Largo Kettering, New Carrolton, Hyattsville, Bowie and Greenbelt), some Montgomery County (Silver Spring) and Anne Arundel County (Annapolis) Maryland Book Clubs and Brown Memorial A.M.E. Church members.

What is your favorite festival memory?

My National Book Festival memories are many. In 2013, Natasha Trethewey, the former, U.S. Poet Laureate, was introduced by Librarian of Congress, Dr. James Billington. He shared that he was ‘impressed by Trethewey’s quality and stature and beautiful presentation in 2004.’ Billington praised her two-term appointment and commitment to the (Laureate) position. Trethewey’s tent was standing room only with an audience of diverse bibliophiles who were mesmerized just as I was.

Trethewey, the Pulitzer Prize award-winning author of the “Native Guard” poetry collection among many books said, ‘History is the myth we live.’ Her words intrigued. She eloquently shared passages from her book on the legacy of the Civil War. Trethewey spoke on the intersection of public versus personal memory and books at the heart of creation. It was apropos that she said her name, Natasha means Christmas. Audience applause for Trethewey indicated that Festival attendees agreed: Trethewey’s books are gifts. After receiving a standing ovation, Trethewey even took the time to meet and greet festival goers who stood in line to say ‘thank you’ and to request a photograph like I did.

Pulitzer Prize award winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin is a Festival favorite. The Harvard University educated historian and praiseworthy award winning biographer made her “Bully Pulpit” about President Teddy Roosevelt real evidence of why she is the renowned scholar writer of multiple Washington Post features and New York Times best-selling books. Goodwin has appeared twice at the National Book Festival.

Another memorable Festival moment came just as I exited the Metro and ended up walking beside the motorized cart carrying Pulitzer Prize award winning author Toni Morrison en route to the festival stage before she dazzled booklovers with a poignant reading from “Home.”

What are you looking forward to this year?

At the 15th Anniversary National Book Festival, among the many authors I look forward to seeing and hearing are Kwame Alexander with “Hoops” and Thomas Mallon and his “Fellow Travelers.”

I hope Al Roker, NBC’s host and weatherman brings us, “The Storm of the Century” and a rain-free commute to and from Metro to the Festival.

I look forward to the hearing our current U.S. Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera and his “Senegal Taxi.”

We’ve read ten of Walter Mosley’s 40 acclaimed books at the New Carrolton Black Literature Discussion Group. I cannot wait to hear Mosley’s thrilling discussion on the mysteries of “And Sometimes I Wonder about You.”

President Barack and First Lady Michele Obama are honorary 15th Anniversary National Book Festival Chairs and while they may not appear in person, it warms my soul to know that the President and First Lady support the Library of Congress National Book Festival. The Obamas displayed a beautiful “Book Tree,” for the 2013 White House Holiday and I cherish my photograph of it.

The theme of this year’s Book Festival is “I Cannot Live Without Books.” Tell us about a book you cannot live without.

I stood in the line in the rain when Dr. James Billington cut the ribbon to rededicate the Thomas Jefferson Building. Under the gold gilded ceilings at the Library of Congress, under glass in a new exhibition was the Guggenheim Bible. All the great stories of our world, of love, hate, war, loss and redemption, fiction and nonfiction can be based on the Bible. I cannot live without books, and the Bible is my bestseller.

One Comment

  1. Denise Pappas
    September 4, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    I loved reading Jacqueline Byrd’s responses to questions about the festival. Her enthusiastic interest in the authors and their talks is contagious. How fortunate we are to have these events covered by CSpan 2. I’ll be watching tomorrow thinking: “This is life as it should be-
    free, cooperative, informative and entertaining.” Bravo!

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