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2021 National Book Festival Highlights: LeVar Burton

Welcome to our ongoing celebration of the 2021 Library of Congress National Book Festival! Here, we offer highlights from this year’s treasure trove of programs celebrating the theme, “Open a Book, Open the World.” Whether you’re tuning in for the first time, or revisiting favorites, we hope you enjoy these programs — and that they continue to open the world for you. Make sure to explore the full video collection from the 2021 Festival.

LeVar Burton says he “grew up knowing that reading was as essential to the human being as breathing.” It’s fitting, then, that the actor and longtime champion of reading took up the hosting duties for “Open a Book, Open the World,” a one-hour special on PBS that introduced audiences to the 2021 National Book Festival.

In an opening night celebration of the 2021 Festival, Burton also sat down for a chat with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden about the power of reading, story and connection (conversation begins at 10:45).

Burton wholeheartedly credits his mother, Erma Gene, with shaping his identity as a reader. “I like to say that in Erma Gene’s house, you either read a book, or you got hit in the head with one — but you were going to have an experience with the written word.” Because his mother modeled the importance of reading in their household, Burton says that reading and literature have undoubtedly shaped his life and career.

According to Burton, “the imagination is the superpower of human beings, and it is through our engagement with literature . . . that we really exercise that imagination muscle.” In his continued work to promote literacy and the importance of literature, he says he feels “a responsibility to help this next generation develop their imaginations,” and that ultimately “a healthy relationship with an imaginary world, with our imaginative selves . . . is critical to the human being, to the successful human being, in any case.”

As we wrap up this series of highlights from the 2021 Festival, we encourage you to keep experiencing the National Book Festival all year round — and we look forward to seeing you during Labor Day weekend 2022, when the National Book Festival returns to the Washington Convention Center in person!

You can watch programs from the 2021 National Book Festival on our National Book Festival website. For up-to-the-minute Festival news, highlights and other important information, subscribe to this blog. The Festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors. You can support the Festival, too, by making a gift now.

2021 National Book Festival Highlights: Poetry

This week we highlight our poetry programs from the 2021 Festival, including conversations with Nikki Giovanni (“Make Me Rain”); francine j. harris (“Here Is the Sweet Hand”) and Patrick Rosal (“The Last Thing”); and Claudia Rankine (“Just Us”), Phillip B. Williams (“Mutiny”) and Kevin Young (“African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song”).

2021 National Book Festival Highlights: Fiction

This week we highlight just a few of our many standout fiction programs from the 2021 Festival, including conversations with Alice McDermott (“What About the Baby?”) and George Saunders (“A Swim in a Pond in the Rain”), P. Djèlí Clark (“A Master of Djinn”), and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois”) and Deesha Philyaw (“The Secret Lives of Church Ladies”).

2021 National Book Festival Highlights: Native Writers

This week we highlight programs from the 2021 Festival that feature Native writers, including conversations with Kelli Jo Ford (“Crooked Hallelujah”) and Toni Jensen (“Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land”), Rep. Sharice Davids (“Sharice’s Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman”) and Joy Harjo (“Poet Warrior”).

2021 National Book Festival Highlights: Kekla Magoon

This week we highlight Kekla Magoon discussing her young adult book “Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People” at the 2021 Festival. This post includes prompts for writing and thinking that teens, families and teachers can use to explore the author and the author’s work — recommended for ages 12-17.

2021 National Book Festival Highlights: Current Events, Science, and History & Biography

This week we highlight just a few of our many standout nonfiction programs from this year’s Festival, including Heather McGhee on “The Sum of Us,” Sarah Frier (“No Filter”) and Anna Wiener (“Uncanny Valley”) on their new books, and Matt Parker on “Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World.”