Library of Congress presents virtual National Book Festival this weekend

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the National Book Festival

The National Book Festival usually hits the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

However, this year, the Library of Congress presents it virtually Friday through Sunday.

“Getting close to 200,000 people at the Washington Convention Center didn’t really seem like a viable option,” festival director Jarrod MacNeil told WTOP. “The Librarian of Congress ultimately decided that she wanted the festival to move forward and that we would be doing it in a virtual capacity. … We’ve been pivoting very quickly.”

This year’s virtual lineup includes 120 different authors, poets and illustrators.

“We have more than 55 live author engagements,” MacNeil said. “We have over 120 videos on demand where individuals can sign in; watch at their leisure. On [Friday] we release all children’s and teen content. … On [Saturday], we release all content.”

It spans a variety of genres, with Politics & Prose serving as the official book seller.

“We have everything from history and biography; fiction; family, food and field; science; poetry,” MacNeil said. “Being in a virtual capacity, we have the ability to build out these timely topic threads, so if people are interested in certain areas, you can weave your participation … different than if you had to run through the convention center.”

These thematic topical threads include “Fearless Women.”

“This is the centennial celebration of women receiving the right to vote in the 19th Amendment,” MacNeil said. “With that, we have a number of really great strong writers, including Chelsea Clinton, Angela Dominguez and Pam Muñoz Ryan.”

You can also check out the thematic thread “Hearing Black Voices.”

“One of my favorite stories from ‘Hearing Black Voices’ is the story of Jessica and Parker Curry, a mother and daughter team … who went to the [National] Portrait Gallery and saw that painting of Michelle Obama a few years back,” MacNeil said. “We have Veronica Chambers as well, Jerry Craft, Nic Stone. We’re really excited.”

The third and final thematic thread is “Democracy in the 21st Century.”

“Being an election year and the library being a repository for amazing content, basically we wanted to lift up content for individuals on the trail,” MacNeil said. “There’s topics about Lincoln’s presidency in the press, about the road to populism, and Eric Foner and Heather Cox Richardson are going to be talking. … It’s really exciting.”

Colson Whitehead will receive the Library’s Prize for American Fiction.

“He’s receiving a number of accolades for his newest book, ‘The Nickel Boys,'” MacNeil said. “He’s really exciting. We’ve been able to have a number of conversations with him throughout since he first was announced as our award winner.”

Other guests include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

“She was able to be interviewed by our co-chairman and lead sponsor David Rubenstein, so we’re really excited for that content to come out,” MacNeil said.

As for fiction, crime readers will enjoy an appearance from John Grisham.

“We’re very, very excited by his participation,” MacNeil said. “It’s exciting to see the breadth of works building up to all of these very popular authors having conversations about how important their work is to them, what influences they’ve had that still influence how they write, and what is considered important to them when writing.”

It all culminates with a televised special airing Sunday evening on PBS.

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with National Book Festival (Full Interview)

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