National Book Festival returns in person with a vengeance after pandemic shift



The National Book Festival is back at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center after a two-year coronavirus hiatus, drawing thousands of attendees and a flurry of tote bags on Saturday.

The literary festival was forced to celebrate its 20th anniversary in an online-only format in 2020 and remained a largely virtual affair in 2021. The Library of Congress, which organizes the free annual gathering, said it drew up to 200,000 participants before the pandemic. The Washington Post is a charter sponsor of the festival.

This year, more than 90 in-person author talks and literary sessions took place throughout the day, many also streamed online, as people bustled and buzzed inside the convention hall. Sessions were held on racism, climate change, how to invest, the bald eagle, women leaders of the civil rights movement, the Mexican revolution, and there were even a melancholic read celebrating 75 years of the bedtime classic “Goodnight Moon.”

Historians and poets attended civics and media sessions, including a lecture titled “Know Your Rights” on how to navigate an online constitution annotated with Supreme Court decisions, and a session titled “Who Do You Trust?: Conspiracies in America.” In the final session, the authors discussed how conspiracy theorists have long exploited some of the most traumatic events in US history, including 9/11, the Sandy Hook massacre, the 6 January on Capitol Hill and the American Revolution itself.

Writer Geraldine Brooks, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel “March” in 2005, spoke about her new novel “Horse,” which is set in intersecting time periods from 1850 to 2019. A reviewer from The Post called the new novel a “reminder”. of the simple, primal power an author can summon by creating characters that readers care about.

Actor Nick Offerman, who played outdoor office manager Ron Swanson in ‘Parks and Recreation’, answered onstage questions from a US Park Ranger about his new book, ‘Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant”. American who likes to walk outside.

“We greedily destroy what we think we don’t need, only to find we could have used that knowledge,” he said to applause.

Offerman encouraged participants to “invest” themselves in a plot of land, large or small. He said he woke up full of energy wondering how his potatoes and other crops were doing; talked about the joy he derives from working with wood; and encouraged participants to vote and learn how to do something with their hands. “It’s a superpower that we all have,” Offerman said.

Afterwards, Offerman autographed books, then got the C-SPAN treatment, appearing on Book-TV on a set in the middle of the festival.

Lillie Hornung, 22, who wore a t-shirt of a ‘Parks and Recreation’ horse called Li’l Sebastian, said she had been looking forward to the book festival all summer, and not just to Offerman. But she said Offerman had an appealing message because it mixes humor with important information about the risks of climate change and the benefits of living more sustainably.

“It puts him in a different perspective,” Hornung said. “He doesn’t care,” simply reminding readers that sustainable living is also joyful, Hornung said.

“If we don’t get depressed,” Elisabeth Staal, 28, added as she and Hornung lined up for an autograph.

Elizabeth Eby, a district festival volunteer, said she was surprised by some attendees who showed up just as the doors opened, apparently backing off after missing the festival in person for two years. Three elderly women showed up, and one was “holding a card and stabbing it,” Eby said. They were looking for a science fiction author’s speech, Eby said.


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