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2020 National Book Festival Highlights: Eric Foner

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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.

America has been founded not once, but twice, according to Eric Foner, one of the nation’s foremost historians.

“These three amendments created a new Constitution. They were not just additions to an existing structure. The 13th Amendment irrevocably abolished slavery. … The 14th, for the first time, declared that anyone born in the United States, with few exceptions, is a citizen. … The 15th Amendment tried to guarantee the right of African American men to vote throughout the entire country,” said Foner in a video he recorded exclusively for the 2020 National Book Festival.

Foner is the author of many award-winning books on the Civil War and Reconstruction, including 2010’s “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery,” winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize and the Lincoln Prize. His books have focused on the intersections of intellectual, political and social history, as well as the history of American race relations. Foner is the DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University. His new book is “The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution” (Norton).

Although he maintains that the three amendments fundamentally changed the nation, he also believes that “Reconstruction was a critical moment in the history of America, but we are still trying to live up to its purposes.”

Foner also participated in a Q&A session with his readers during the festival. You can hear that session (and Q&As with select other authors) on the Virtual Festival Platform (Go to “Stages” tab and select “History & Biography.” Click on “Sessions” and select “Eric Foner”).

The author appeared on the History & Biography virtual stage, which was sponsored by longtime National Book Festival supporter Wells Fargo. If you navigate to the Wells Fargo booth under the “Partner Activities” tab (on the Virtual Festival Platform) you can see author Veronica Chambers in a video celebrating reading, education and the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in America. Chambers gives us an inside look at her book “Finish the Fight! The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote.” Written with the staff of the New York Times, Chambers shares the lesser-known stories of diverse heroines who fought for the 19th amendment. You can also download several fun and educational “handouts.”

Videos from more than 120 fascinating authors are available on various stages. From the Stages tab on the Virtual Festival Platform you can also view some of the presentations thematically, along the lines of “Democracy in the 21st Century,” “Hearing Black Voices” and “Fearless Women.” It’s a great way to hear how authors are addressing these topics through their works, both fact and fiction, while keeping in touch with current literature.

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.


  1. nice

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