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2020 National Book Festival Highlights: James McBride

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Welcome to our ongoing celebration of the 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival! If you love storytelling or are simply curious about the world, you’ve landed in the right place. As a way into this vast — and vastly fascinating — festival celebrating “American Ingenuity,” we offer here a string of highlights that truly illustrate the resilience, intelligence and wit of this year’s authors. Please enjoy, and make sure to explore our full National Book Festival video collection and special limited-time content on the Virtual Festival Platform.

“I wanted to create a world that most people only see from behind the wheel of a tightly locked car… to let the wider world see how people in the projects live,” says James McBride from his living room in Lambertville, New Jersey.

That world is inspired by Red Hook, Brooklyn, where the author of “Deacon King Kong” (Riverhead) grew up. The year is 1969. It’s the story of a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat, who shuffles into the courtyard of a housing project in south Brooklyn one day, pulls a .45 from his pocket and in full public view shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range. “This shooting sets off a wave of activity that allows us to see the church, the neighborhood, the people, the environment,” he says.

McBride is the author of several distinguished books, including “The Color of Water,” a memoir that spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list and is widely considered a modern classic. His previous novel, “The Good Lord Bird,” won the National Book Award in 2013. In 2016, President Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal, for “humanizing the complexities of discussing race in America.” McBride is also an accomplished musician and a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University.

McBride looks at the characters he creates as an opportunity to get to know them: “When you create characters, you’re allowing people whom you’d like to meet into your space so that they might give you some understanding as to who they are.”

The author filmed his video exclusively for the Library of Congress, and he later engaged in a Q&A with festivalgoers online. You can see both of these on the Virtual Festival Platform (go to Fiction stage, click on “sessions” and then click on “James McBride.”)

The more than 120 authors, poets and illustrators who joined us for the 2020 National Book Festival, our first virtual festival, rose to the challenges of presenting online, and they shared their unique perspectives on this 20th festival’s theme, American Ingenuity.

You can access all author presentations from our National Book Festival site. And there is additional video content, such as fascinating Q&A sessions with select authors, on the Virtual Festival Platform.

You are invited to explore the many festival stages in genres such as History & Biography, Poetry & Prose, Fiction, Children and Teens. These author recordings are guaranteed to challenge you to look at life in new ways and inspire you to read their work.

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