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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”).