NFL stars, Hollywood page-turners hit Library of Congress’ National Book Fest

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the National Book Festival (Part 1)

If you like a good read, you may want to visit D.C. this weekend for a real page-turner of an event.

The Library of Congress is hosting its 23rd annual National Book Festival on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Washington Convention Center after past years on the East Lawn of the U.S. Capitol and National Mall.

“We’re really excited,” festival director Jarrod MacNeil told WTOP. “We have six stages this year spread out through the convention center on three different levels. We also have this amazing expo floor, which will have family-friendly activities, we’ll have our sponsors and exhibitors showcasing there, we’ll have signing lines for our authors to be signing books, as well as our bookstore partner, Politics & Prose, selling the authors’ books.”

This year’s impressive lineup of featured authors includes NFL alum R.K. Russell, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He will discuss his new book “The Yards Between Us: A Memoir of Life, Love and Football” about his journey as a queer Black man in sports.

“He’s coming to talk about his book and it’s really exciting,” MacNeil said. “As one of the first ‘out’ NFL football stars, he’s there to talk about the experience, he’s there to give voice to those who haven’t had voices before.”

The lineup also includes Cuban American children’s author Meg Medina, who received a Newbery Medal for her middle-grade novel “Merci Suárez Changes Gears” and was a Kirkus Prize shortlister and National Book Award longlister for her young-adult novel “Burn Baby Burn.” At the festival, she’ll be promoting her new young-adult graphic novel “Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass,” illustrated by Mel Valentine Vargas.

“She’s appeared at the National Book Festival a number of times and Meg is one of our Library of Congress ambassadors,” MacNeil said. “She is the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, which is something we’re really excited [about]. She’s here to talk about ‘Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.’ … It’s about a sophomore who is adjusting to their new high school, so a lot of young people can relate to this.”

Meanwhile, you don’t want to miss Joy Harjo, the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States, who is an internationally renowned performer and writer from the Mvskoke Nation of Native Americans in Oklahoma.

“She is coming to talk about her new collection of poems called ‘Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light: 50 Poems for 50 Years,'” MacNeil said. “We’re really excited that she’s coming to talk about that, but she’s also coming to talk about a new picture book that she has called ‘Remember,’ so we’re really excited that she’s here representing both the Poet Laureateship as well as herself as an author at the National Book Festival.”

The lineup also includes familiar faces from Hollywood, including R.J. Palacio, who previously wrote the bestselling book “Wonder,” which was adapted as a movie in 2017 starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Jacob Tremblay.

“The original ‘Wonder’ sold millions upon millions of books and has been adapted to both small and big screen, so we’re absolutely ecstatic to have her,” MacNeil said. “She’s talking about her new novel ‘White Bird,’ which is going to become a major motion picture, as ‘Wonder’ has. I believe Helen Mirren is going to be featured. … It’s about a young Jewish girl whose world comes crashing down in Nazi occupation.”

You also don’t want to miss Elliot Page, the former star of “Juno” (2007) and “Inception” (2010) who has since chronicled his groundbreaking journey through gender transition in the buzzed-about memoir “Pageboy.”

“We’re really excited to have him at the National Book Festival,” MacNeil said. “Obviously, ‘Pageboy’ has become an amazing story that has been featured across so many different mediums at this point, and it is a memoir, so we’re really excited to have someone of that caliber coming to talk about the changes in their own life and what brings them to the point where he is today.”

If you can’t make it to the festival in person, you can watch all of the programs virtually.

“The National Book Festival is here to inspire a love of reading regardless of age, from the youngest in picture books to the oldest reading memoirs or historical fictions,” MacNeil said. “We provide an avenue for individuals to meet their favorite authors, to connect with people who had significant impacts on their life, whether it be through true memoirs or fantasy fiction. … We want to ignite that excitement for reading.”

Find more info on the festival here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the National Book Festival (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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