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2020 National Book Festival Highlights: Madeleine Albright

The following welcome was written by Marie Arana, Library of Congress Literary Director.

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. Here you are in a proverbial Aladdin’s cave of some of the best-written books of the past year. From history to cutting-edge journalism, and from poetry to white-knuckle thrillers, you’re bound to find a treasure trove of riches for every age.

This year is especially important to us at the Library because it marks 20 years since the founding of the National Book Festival on Sept. 8, 2001, when first lady Laura Bush—a former librarian herself—joined forces with the Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, to launch this beloved annual book event. By now, the festival has become one of the most distinguished and popular celebrations of reading in the country. For two full decades, the Library of Congress has brought authors to Washington and dazzled area booklovers with eye-opening talks, lively conversation, panels about timely subjects and sheer fun for the young.

But 2020 transformed the festival in ways we never expected, much as it suddenly and profoundly changed lives throughout the globe. We have been in the vortex of a pandemic, as have you. The celebration of books you’ll encounter here was produced as an entirely virtual event in response to the Library’s strong desire to reach you, despite the challenges. All our festival programs were recorded remotely from afar (and, in some cases, from beyond our borders) and brought to you from the homes of more than 120 authors. What you’ll find here is a diverse yet surprisingly intimate view of the writing life—a singular opportunity to meet writers and illustrators not on a podium or on a stage but up close and personal, in the very places where they live and work.

You’ll see: Sandra Cisneros speaking to us from her favorite nook in San Miguel de Allende. John Grisham, reminiscing before a towering stack of books in Charlottesville. Joy Harjo, reciting a poem from her home in Tulsa. Colson Whitehead, accepting the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction from his writing table in Sag Harbor. Ann Patchett in her dining room in Nashville, talking to her dear friend, children’s book writer Kate DiCamillo, who joins her from Minneapolis. James McBride in New Jersey, playing a few bars on his piano to illustrate his points. Historian Eric Foner, explaining the foundational relevance of Reconstruction and pointing out the dozens of works behind him, written by his star students. Dan Brown, beaming to us from his New Hampshire study, a magnificent replica of the Library of Congress’s Main Reading Room. And the chipper Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, speaking to us amid file boxes in her office in Washington, D.C.

The National Book Festival lives on. You can find its grand array of presentations and activities on our unique platform at nationalbookfestival.com. There, until November 30, you will see all author talks and conversations as well as live Q&A sessions. There, too, apart from a bevy of programming for young people, you’ll find a special one-hour broadcast for children, hosted by Jon Scieszka, and another for teens, hosted by our National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Jason Reynolds. You can learn about many projects underway at the Library of Congress (see the Explore the Library of Congress tab); and, in Roadmap to Reading (see the Discover State Reads tab), you can avail yourself of book recommendations from our 53 affiliates around the country.

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 these authors. For the next six weeks, this blog intends to bring you quick glimpses of such moments in hopes that they will whet your appetite to explore much more.

We begin here with Madeleine Albright—Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton—who discloses in a candid conversation with her friend, festival Co-chairman David Rubenstein, that the title of her latest book, “Hell and Other Destinations,” comes from nothing so much as a pet peeve. As she tells it (with no lack of spirited conviction), she is mystified, if not a little miffed, by women who put down their fellow women, especially those who break barriers, instead of raising them up and cheering them on: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t support each other,” she tells us. You can learn even more from Albright by watching her recorded Q&A session on the Virtual Festival Platform (located on the History & Biography Stage).

There is so much to learn and delight in here. We hope you enjoy it!

—Marie Arana

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.