This year’s National Book Festival was, of course, a celebration of books. I heard six writers speak about their work (while three others were so popular that there was no room for me or many other fans at their presentations).
The event was a celebration of libraries: small, big, and biggest. A display of Little Free Libraries promoted the Take a Book, Leave a Book movement that adds whimsy and fosters literacy in neighborhoods around the country. (At another table, visitors could take and leave book recommendations. I accidentally drew from the jar two slips of paper that were stuck together, so I will be reading both Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall and I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak at some point.)
In the Pavilion of the States, delegations from U.S. states’ and territories’ official public library systems gave away bookmarks and brochures. The Library of Congress, which puts on the National Book Festival each year, was celebrated as a multifaceted resource. Its pavilion space inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center replicated the library’s beautiful walls and ceilings, while representatives at the microphone and at tables shared with the public the many offerings LOC provides as a library and a museum.
Museums were also a topic of celebration in one talk I attended, given by Tonya Bolden, author of How to Build a Museum on the Smithsonian’s newest site. Bolden was the only author I saw last week who stood at the podium and addressed the audience directly, rather than using an interview-in-armchairs format. She delved into the role of celebrations in her own life – growing up in multicultural Spanish Harlem, “I thought life was a festival.” Bolden spoke of the events and parades held by the many ethnic communities in the neighborhood of her youth, including the Italians marching their saints down the streets (similar to what I recently wrote about seeing in Italy).
But the main focus of Bolden’s address was an occasion happening that very same day: the much-celebrated opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Bolden had not yet visited the finished museum; she would be attending its opening day a few hours later. I have not been yet either (I plan to go later this month, when hopefully it’s a little less crowded), but Bolden’s talk, along with news articles and social media posts, have done nothing but whet my appetite for this brand-new and very important museum.
In addition to being a celebration in itself, NMAAHC also deals with some very serious subject matter. One audience member asked Bolden how to broach tragic topics in history and in the news with young children. Bolden’s answer: Talk to children about these difficult issues, because “kids understand ‘not fair’ better than adults.”
The celebration of books, libraries, and museums continues even after another wonderful National Book Festival has ended, and I will be sure to write more about NMAAHC once I have visited.