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2020 National Book Festival Highlights: Jon Meacham

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.

The following post was written by Guy Lamolinara, communications officer in Literary Initiatives.

One of America’s most respected and eloquent historians is Jon Meacham. He has written about American presidents, including Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson and George H.W. Bush, as well as sweeping histories that get at the spirit of this country. Here, he speaks about Washington and Jefferson, civil rights, the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass and, of course, his friend and subject of his recent book, Rep. John Lewis.

Meacham discusses the difficult and sometimes vexing issue of how to assess the legacies of — and monuments to — slaveholders whom we honor today, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson: “These are complicated questions,” he says. We need to ask, “What was in the hearts and minds of the people who put those monuments up?”

“Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass. They were about using reason, using the gifts of the Enlightenment, to find a way forward that would transcend superstition, transcend a reflexive caving to authority, and actually bring about a more perfect and, in our time, a more just union,” says Meacham.

“At our best we always manage to at least give reason a fighting chance. …. We affirmatively decided that reason… would be a guiding principle [for America].”

In “His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope” (Random House), Meacham writes about the civil rights icon and longtime member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and about Lewis’s lifelong quest for racial justice.

He refers to Lewis as a “saint.”

One of the benefits of this virtual festival is that you get a peek into the spaces where authors live and write. Meacham speaks to us from his home in Sewanee, Tennessee.

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.

2 Comments

  1. Ann Wheeler Bullock
    October 26, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    Thank for sharing these interviews,esp Jon Meecham.
    Im just now finishinghis book.
    So timely!

  2. Gretchen Weaver
    October 26, 2020 at 2:46 pm

    I really needed to hear Jon Meecham give this short talk after all the politicians giving their point of view and slams on others in print and on TV.

    “Facts are stubborn things” He also quoted 2 African American leaders. Frederick Douglas and John Lewis, who believed that on American soil we can develop the closest thing to Heaven on Earth because reason is our guiding principal.

    Many thanks and I’m still praying for our Country.

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