The annual Library of Congress National Book Festival is usually a well-attended affair in Washington, D.C. For years it was housed in huge tents on the National Mall; more recently it was in the Washington Convention Center. In 2019, the book festival drew 200,000 bibliophiles eager to hear from their favorite writers, buy their hot new releases,and line up to get autographed books from Joyce Carol Oates, Julia Alvarez, Rick Atkinson and other big book-world names.
This year is the 20th festival and, like so much else during the coronavirus pandemic, it is all online. On the bright side? Many more people can participate in the long-weekend event, Sept. 25-27 (with an apt theme for 2020: “American Ingenuity"), from the comfort of their favorite reading chairs.
Events, accessed at loc.gov/bookfest, include on-demand videos and live discussions with famous authors and other well-known figures such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; two first daughters, Chelsea Clinton, who has a new book for young readers, She Persisted in Sports: American Olympians Who Changed the Game, and Jenna Bush Hager, discussing her new book about her grandparents, Everything Beautiful in Its Time (read our excerpt), and Hager's mother, former first lady Laura Bush, who cofounded the National Book Festival in 2001 with then-Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.
The many live author events (available to watch on demand later) include question-and-answer sessions featuring:
• Colson Whitehead, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for his 2016 novel The Underground Railroad (an Amazon TV adaptation's in the works) and 2019's The Nickel Boys. Sept. 26, 11 a.m. to noon ET.
• John Grisham, the mega-best-selling author of legal thrillers, such as his recent Camino Winds. Sept. 26, 1 to 2 p.m. ET.
• Bill Buford, journalist and author of the best-selling 2006 book Heat: An Amateur Cook in a Professional Kitchen, and this year's humorous Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking (read our excerpt here). Sept. 26, 4 to 5 p.m. ET.
• Ann Patchett, author of the best-selling 2019 novel The Dutch House, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, who will chat with her friend and beloved children's book author Kate DiCamillo. Sept. 27, 11 a.m. to noon ET.
There also will be prerecorded author discussions — on-demand videos you can watch anytime (for 60 days) starting Saturday at 9 a.m. Among those are:
• Jon Meacham, offering insights on the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, the subject of his new biography, His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope.
• Walter Isaacson, acclaimed biographer, most recently with 2017's Leonardo da Vinci, discussing ingenuity (the theme of the festival).
• Joy Harjo, current U.S. poet laureate and the first Native American to receive the honor, discussing poetry and the evolution of American literary culture with Rita Dove, who was the country's first African American poet laureate.
• Carmen Maria Machado, author of the brilliant 2019 memoir In the Dream House, talking about probing one's life for stories with Elizabeth Tallent, author of this year's Scratched: A Memoir of Perfectionism, in a session called “The Examined Self.”
• Ibram X. Kendi, the National Book Award-winning author of How to Be an Antiracist, and Saeed Jones, author of How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir, discussing confronting racism and bigotry.
How to Join and Watch
To participate in the book festival, register on the Library of Congress website (it takes about 10 seconds; they just ask for your name and email address). While there, you can check the schedule and add events to your calendar.
For live events, log in to the site early because the number of participants it can accept is limited to 100,000 visitors. You can also watch the recorded videos later (they should be available on the site within a few hours of the live event).
You can watch the prerecorded videos of interviews of authors of adults books starting Saturday, Sept. 26, at 9 a.m. on the LOC website as well as its YouTube page. The interviews with children's book authors will be available there starting Friday, Sept. 25, at 9 a.m.
And on Sunday night you can tune in to PBS's The Library of Congress National Book Festival: Celebrating American Ingenuity, a two-hour show featuring many of the festival's top authors, hosted by Hoda Kotb of the Today show (Sept. 27, 6-8 p.m. ET/PT, check local listings, and on demand on the PBS app).