The National Book Festival has long been a favorite event of the year. Bibliophiles will remember that it was first instituted on the National Mall in 2000 during the George W. Bush Administration, and grew in size and popularity every year. But now, the Festival has moved to the Convention Center, and while it’s certainly bigger, whether that’s better is up for debate.
With plenty of literary activities for readers of all ages, the free Festival is (very generally) divided into three parts: Book Signings, Children’s Literacy Activities, and Main Stage Discussions. This year’s 19th annual festival on Saturday, August 31st featured more than 140 authors, illustrators and poets who made presentations on stages dedicated to kids, fiction, history, biography, poetry, science and more. Main Stage authors included Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David McCullough and José Andres.
Among the pros of the new location are the fact that it is air conditioned and security measures are better than on the Mall. Parents with children appreciated that they “could not lose” their children in the indoor space, and that — in lieu of tents — it was easy to access all of the children’s literacy events on one open level. Those attending without youth, however, found the festival areas for their interests were widely dispersed and often confusing to find. And getting to the Main Stage for the most popular discussions was, in fact, impossible.
For example, RBG’s discussion was so anticipated that her audience started lining up in the early morning hours (4 am has been reported) to see her speak and discuss her book “My Own Words.” Since the 4,000 person cap was filled so early, the Convention Center redirected all escalators to only travel in the down direction, precluding anyone from going upstairs, whether they hoped to attend RBG’s discussion or otherwise. This was a source of major frustration and caused attendees to spend more time searching for a way upstairs than actually enjoying the parts of the festival that would still be available to them.
Even so, the day was a celebration of reading and the written word for book lovers of all ages. And if the 20th annual National Book Festival can turn the page on some of the Main Stage mayhem, repeat visitors to the new location may be better able to plan their day to meet many favorite (and new favorite) authors.