Back to basics at the National Book Festival

Entertainment,Nancy Dunham
If you think that honest-to-goodness books have gone the way of eight-track tape players, you'll likely change your mind when you attend the 2011 National Book Festival sponsored by the Library of Congress.

Sure, you likely know more than a handful of folks, perhaps including yourself, that seem way too attached to their e-readers. This festival is geared to lure you right back into the stacks, if you will. Organizers report that more than 100 authors, including Toni Morrison, Julianne Moore, David McCullough and Jim Lehrer will offer readings, signings and chats with attendees.

"Following on the great success of the 2010 National Book Festival, our 10th anniversary, the National Book Festival Board decided last January to make this a two-day event," said Dr. James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress. "We expect book lovers to be delighted with the number of poets, authors and illustrators we've assembled this year, including several winners of major literary awards."

If you go
The 11th Annual National Book Festival
Where: National Mall between Seventh and 14th streets NW
When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday
Info: Free; 888-714-4696;

One of the most exciting points of the National Book Festival is the mix of authors that will be in attendance.

"We [always] have a large number of very, very well-known popular authors [mixed with] serious writers," said Roberta Stevens, who was manager of the National Book Festival for a decade and is now president of the American Library Association. "We try to do a combination that's more extensive each year."

Also setting the National Book Festival apart is the mission to make it a celebration of books and reading and not a commercial endeavor. The Library of Congress solicits personal donations to support the event.

This latest festival may be one of the most intriguing and is certainly among the most diverse. The festival will include events under the categories of History & Biography, Fiction & Mystery, Poetry & Prose and Contemporary Life, plus pavilions geared specifically to teens and children.

On Sunday, the Pavilion of the States will be converted into three new genre pavilions: State Poets Laureate, the Cutting Edge, and Graphic Novels.

"The authors' talks will be a bit longer," said Billington. "and we believe festival goers' access to authors in the book-signing area will be made a bit easier."

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are the honorary chairmen of the event, though it is not yet confirmed that they will attend.

The festival began when former first lady Laura Bush invited Billington and the Library of Congress to join her in its creation. The goal of the festival is to celebrate the joys of reading through the planned events.

Publishers nominate authors, illustrators and poets to participate in the event. A panel then selects the final participants.

The bounty of authors means attendees will want to get to the fest early and plan to make a full day of it.

"It's important to plan ahead," said John Cole a librarian and historian at the Library of Congress who oversees author coordination at the festival. "The beauty and the problem of the Book Fest is that it all happens simultaneously. People need to make choices."

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