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The National Book Festival at 20: Still Growing and Changing

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In June of 2015, I posted the very first entry to launch this Library of Congress National Book Festival Blog. The post was titled, “It’s the Festival’s 15th, Let’s Celebrate with a Blog,” and starting this feed was one of the many ways we celebrated the milestone 15th year of the festival by offering a closer look at its history, stories, planning efforts and latest news. Now here we are five years later, ramping up for another huge milestone — the 20th year of this premiere celebration of books and reading beloved by so many. The festival blog remains a key tool for sharing up-to-date information, and for taking a look back at the rich endearing history of this event.

Today’s #ThrowbackThursday post takes a look at a few key festival changes and milestones over the years, as we prepare for another big change with the 20th Library of Congress National Book Festival going completely virtual.

This venue change isn’t the first for the festival. Started in 2001 by first lady Laura Bush and the Library of Congress, the event was first held on the East Lawn of the U.S. Capitol and in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building.

In 2002, the festival moved down to the National Mall where it was held annually for the next 12 years.

In 2014 the festival made its way indoors to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, which marked a stark change in the layout and experience to which we’d grown accustomed. But benefits included greater accessibility for all and protection from the elements, while enjoying the always stellar lineup of authors and activities for all ages for which the festival is known.

The move indoors, and resulting new layout, gave rise to the development of a Main Stage in addition to the longstanding genre-specific author stages such as History & Biography, Fiction, Poetry & Prose, Children, Teens and more. Since its inception in 2016, the National Book Festival Main Stage has been graced by the likes of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen King, David McCullough Shonda Rhimes, Amy Tan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and other notable figures.

It only follows that the move to a virtual National Book Festival for 2020, in response to COVID-19, can have the effect of further increasing accessibility by truly making this a national festival that anyone can attend. The online portion will feature video-on-demand and live events taking place Sept. 25-27 at, culminating in a special television broadcast Sunday, Sept. 27, at 6 PM ET on PBS (check local listings).

The genre-specific stages will remain as virtual stages this year, and will be graced by more than 120 renowned writers, poets and artists who will present under the festival theme, “American Ingenuity.” This year’s list includes Tomi Adeyemi, Madeleine Albright, Dan Brown, Chelsea Clinton, Rita Dove, Jenna Bush Hager, Juan Felipe Herrera, Ibram X. Kendi, Jason Reynolds, Colson Whitehead and many more. See the full author list here.

The new online “venue” also allows for the introduction of a new content feature – Timely Topic Threads. Each thread is a way to explore a particular topic across authors and genre stages. The three topics, “Fearless Women,” “Hearing Black Voices” and “Democracy,” have particular resonance in today’s world, further tying the festival to our experiences and realities.

These are just a few examples of the ways that the National Book Festival has — and continues to — grow, change, and adapt to meet the needs of festivalgoers. I’ve worked on the festival in different capacities for a whopping 15 years now and, like myself, I know that many of you, and your families, have grown, and grown up with, the festival. We’ve watched a generation of diverse readers raised with the festival, and countless gifted authors and illustrators have shared their stories and their time with us. It’s been truly amazing to watch the story of the festival unfold and become part of our own stories and traditions along with those of this nation.

Whether this will be your 20th or your first year attending the festival, there are plenty of surprises and great experiences in store. We hope to “see” you there! Feel free to share your own festival memories, as well as things you are looking forward to this year, here in the comments. And follow along on this blog as we count down to the festival with lots of great information.

The 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival will celebrate its 20th birthday this year. You can get up-to-the-minute news, schedule updates and other important festival 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.

Comments (4)

  1. I plan to attend!

  2. I am just tickled that COVID-19 did not stop The National Book Festival. I am a volunteer and look forward every year to serve the public.

    Thank for keeping this tradition alive!

  3. I plan to attend

  4. Thanks for your efforts to make this possible in a difficult time. I will enjoy learning from your speakers. MG

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