Annual Book Festival Takes Place Saturday

Posted October 6, 2004 at 4:19pm

Where can one find children’s author R.L. Stine, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), and NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar all in the same place?

The National Book Festival, of course. These authors, along with many others, will be on hand to discuss their works Saturday on the National Mall at this year’s celebration of American literature.

The festival is sponsored by the Library of Congress, which “invites readers from around the country to this widely anticipated event.” According to Librarian of Congress James Billington, more than 70,000 people attended last year’s festival. Even more are expected to show up this year.

First lady Laura Bush, who serves as host of the National Book Festival, said in a statement that she believes this is “a wonderful opportunity for book lovers to celebrate reading,” and encourages both lifelong readers and beginners “to discover new books and inspiring writers.”

Peter Straub is a featured author at the festival and the winner of multiple Bram Stoker awards for his delightfully horrifying tales. When asked about speaking at the National Book Festival, he says, “It’s rather an honor to be invited … it has a flavor of recognition, and recognition is always welcome.”

Straub draws a distinction between this festival and the average book fair. Not only is it “larger than most,” but the authors chosen to speak are based on reputation instead of whether they have a new book coming out. “I have many friends coming [to the festival] and I think that very few have a book in the pipeline.”

The festival is divided into different author pavilions, each focusing on a different genre. In addition to the “Science Fiction & Fantasy” pavilion, new to this year’s event, there is a pavilion dedicated to “Home & Family,” “Children,” “Teens & Children,” “Fiction & Imagination,” “Mysteries & Thrillers,” “History & Biography” and “Poetry.”

Bibi Marti, spokeswoman for the festival, says that within each pavilion “the authors present their books, usually their most recent, and take questions from the audience.” In addition to presenting their work, some of the authors also participate in book signings, though those are separate events.

Among the highlights of this year’s festival is the participation by members of the NBA and WNBA’s Read to Achieve Program. Six-time NBA Most Valuable Player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, along with members of the WNBA, will be on hand at the Children’s Pavilion from 12:40 to 1:15 p.m. reading to youngsters. Abdul-Jabbar will also be on hand to talk about his book “Brothers in Arms,” which focuses on an all-black tank battalion in World War II.

Two oral history projects sponsored by the Library of Congress are also taking place at the festival this Saturday. Voices of Civil Rights is a project dedicated to recording the stories of thousands of people involved with the civil rights movement. The Veterans History Project is in the process of recording the personal tales of those servicemen who fought in both World Wars, as well as the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf conflicts.

A number of authors from the Washington area will be featured in the festival. Rep. John Lewis will be on hand to discuss his book “Walking with the Wind,” a memoir of the civil rights movement. Lewis says that in the few minutes he has to speak, he will “tell the story about how I got involved with the movement.” One story in particular leaps to his mind.

“When I was growing up, segregation was the order of the day. We couldn’t even check books out of the library; the librarian said the building was for ‘whites only.’ Well, I went back to that library on July 5, 1998, and hundreds of black citizens and white citizens showed up, and they presented me with a library card. I was very touched.”

Political analyst Cokie Roberts will be on hand to discuss “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.” Daniel Silva, Edward Jones, Juan Williams and many others from the D.C. area are also scheduled to attend.

The National Book Festival is free and will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine. Check the festival’s Web site (www.loc.gov/bookfest) for a complete schedule of events.