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2020 National Book Festival Highlights: Téa Obreht

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.

Téa Obreht seemingly burst onto the literary scene with her debut novel, “The Tiger’s Wife,” in 2010. Her follow-up, “Inland” (Random House), was called “a bracingly epic and imaginatively mythic journey across the American West” by Entertainment Weekly.

The New Yorker named Obreht one of the 20 best American fiction writers under 40, and she was a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. “Inland” is a historical novel set in the drought-ridden Arizona Territory in 1893 and was named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, Time and Library Journal, among others.

Originally from the former Yugoslavia, Obreht now lives in New York and teaches at Hunter College. Ron Charles, fiction critic of The Washington Post, interviewed her in this exclusive video for the 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival. “I didn’t see that coming,” said Charles, of the setting of the new novel. “You could have stayed in Europe; you could have written all your novels in Europe.”

Explains Obreht: “I felt very at home the first time I visited the West, which was very strange. It was almost a spiritual homecoming, which of course is what the whole mythos of the West is built on …

“I think that, however insidious it is, and however much we recognize the role of that particular mythology in shaping the way we talk, and dream and write about the West—particularly from the settler lens — the stab of it was real. And that stab to me was terrifying. As an immigrant — I came here at the age of 12 — I had never felt such a sense of home before, and I knew that tension, the sort of crossroads between knowing history and knowing what it meant to feel something, and feeling it anyway, was just something that had to be explored in the work.”

Obreht also participated in a Q&A session with her 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 “Fiction.” Click on “Sessions” and select “Téa Obreht”).

Videos from more than 120 fascinating authors are available on the platform’s various stages. Some of our greatest storytellers appeared on the virtual Fiction stage: Emily St. John Mandel, James McBride, Salman Rushdie and Kali Fajardo-Anstine, among others. You can explore additional fiction titles on the Genre Fiction and Poetry & Prose stages, also accessible from the Virtual Festival Platform The art of extraordinary writing is evident in these books from some of our greatest novelists and short-story writers. These books will make you laugh and cry, as well as offer new ways of looking at and thinking about our world.

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.

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