Bibliophiles will be relieved to learn that the annual Library of Congress National Book Festival is still on for 2020. The event typically draws thousands of readers to Washington, D.C. for a full Saturday of author Q&As, book signings, exhibits, and more. In its 20 years, the Festival has grown into one of the best book festivals in the country, offering talks by rising stars and some of the biggest names in book circles. This year, the theme is a celebration of “American Ingenuity.”
With the shift to the virtual platform, there are some major changes to keep in mind. Instead of everything happening on a single day, the Festival panels will be on September 25-27. On Sunday the 27th, it ends with a PBS television special at 6 p.m. ET/PT. Hosted by Hoda Kotb from NBC News’ TODAY, the two-hour special is called “The Library of Congress National Book Festival: Celebrating American Ingenuity.”
The authors are still grouped on the Schedule page according to “Stages” or book categories, which is similar to the program layout of the in-person years. Festival goers from prior years will find it easy to maneuver the schedule and figure out which Q&As or virtual author stages to navigate to.
In addition to the familiar Schedule page, you can also utilize a new tool to enhance your learning experience. For the first time, festival organizers added “newsworthy threads” or learning paths relevant to today’s news. The threads this year are “Fearless Women,” “Hearing Black Voices,” and “Democracy in the 21st Century.”
Some of the authors on this year’s roster are favorites from previous years: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, historian Jon Meacham, and fiction writers Amy Tan and John Grisham. Other notable authors appearing are Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie, Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, disability rights advocate Haben Girma, former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton, and two-time Pulitzer prize winner Colson Whitehead. Whitehead is also a 2020 recipient of the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction.
In addition to those speakers, there are many great panels happening in a few weeks. There’s Jessica Curry and her five-year-old Parker Curry, who captured the world’s attention through a memorable encounter with Michelle Obama’s portrait. Newbie cooks in this year of COVID-19 and longtime cooks should look out for Bill Buford’s insights and tips on French cooking.
Leland Melvin not only played for the Detroit Lions in the NFL, but he has gone up into space during his career as an astronaut and scientist. There’s also Mario Livio, a prolific writer in space and mathematics topics, with a new book Galileo: And the Science Deniers. Another must see is Jared Diamond, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning book, Guns, Germ, and Steel. Diamond’s latest book is Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis.
Although we’ve lost the exhibition hall for this year, the Festival has partnered with Politics & Prose where books are available for sale. Of course, it’s always a good time to support your locally owned bookshop too. Book signings and meeting your favorite author will likely have to wait until 2021.
Keep an eye on the National Book Festival website for their latest updates. There’s a section with highlights from past years, where you can watch Q&As in their entirety and discover new books for your reading list. See you online for the 2020 National Book Festival!