The National Book Festival

This afternoon I braved the unseasonable heat (over 90 degrees in late September?  Really, DC?) to check out the National Book Festival.  Every year, the Festival takes over 4 blocks of the National Mall and sets up a dozen or so tents featuring authors and other literary programs.  This was my first year going, and it’s the kind of thing that makes me want to live here forever, so I can go every year and take my hypothetical future children.

In a day full of luminary literary stars, I only made it to a few events, but what I saw was great:

  • Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer discussing their forty-year-old classic The Phantom Tollbooth, and answering questions from multiple generations of adoring fans.  One middle-aged woman prefaced her question by saying how much she and her kids both loved the book, and then said that “if it wasn’t inappropriate for the setting, I’d come up and give you both a kiss,” at which point Juster waved her onstage and she pecked them both on the cheek.  Pretty cool to see so many people who cherish the same book I do, and just as fervently.
  • Jonathan Safran Foer doing his eloquent/wise/witty thing, and reading a few pages from his recent nonfiction book Eating Animals.  While I loved both his novels, I hadn’t felt any desire to read Eating Animals, but hearing him read from and talk about it definitely swayed me.  I’ll let you know what I think of it.
  • A presentation from “Poetry Out Loud,” a program of the Poetry Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts “which encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation.” Poetry Out Loud involves high school students competing in poetry recitation contests, and today’s program featured several student champions.  They were So Good.  I couldn’t believe how poised and confident and articulate the National Champion, Amber Rose Johnson, was–really impressive for a high school senior.  I love the idea of getting students excited about poetry– encouraging them to take old poems and then internalizing and reinterpreting them through recitation and performance.  It almost makes me wish I were in high school again so I could participate… but nope, not quite.  I’m still quite glad to be out of high school.  And I’m glad to be in DC where I can spend an afternoon with a crowd full of people who read and write and love literature.

One thought on “The National Book Festival

  1. One of my closest and smartest friends gave me The Phantom Tollbooth in high school, and I still go back and re-read it regularly because it made such an impression. That must have been amazing to see the author and illustrator in person!

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