At first glance, the 15th annual National Book Festival looks like any other convention. It’s filled with confused attendees, stealing quick glances between their Walter E. Washington Convention Center maps and signs hanging over entryways throughout the building. Everyone is moving about, ducking in and out of suites and conference rooms, in which there are rows upon rows of chairs facing a stage where an author— of nonfiction, scifi, cookbooks, you name it— stands, reading an excerpt from their latest work.
But walking into each suite (and there are many to choose from, with over 200 authors attending the day-long festival) is, funnily enough, like cracking open a different piece of literature. The author and audience create the feeling in the rooms, filling some with talks of crises abroad and others with stories based on day-to-day events happening in their own backyards.
I listen for a while to Daniel Alarcón, who reads from his novel At Night We Walk in Circles. “I don’t recommend my process,” he says, after he completes a moving excerpt in which the novel’s main character, Nelson, confronts his father from across a dinner table. “It spans seven years and produces one novel.” The audience laughs along quietly, drowsy from either the residual DC heat or their unexpected emergence out of Alarcón’s onstage narration. His embodiment of Nelson is dreamy, almost, a contrast to his personable, quick responses to the audience questions that follow.
Whether it is an author speaking fervently about her work, audience members looking with immense focus to the stage, or the intensity with which a reader scans the inside flap of a book on the convention floor, a passion for literature is ubiquitous. All of the attendees at the National Book Festival embody its’ selected quote, courtesy of Thomas Jefferson: “I cannot live without books.” The quote is historically relevant—200 years ago, the Library of Congress acquired Jefferson’s personal library— and also represents the love of literature and stories of all kinds evident at the festival.
The Library of Congress’ 2015 National Book Festival was on Saturday, September 5th. For upcoming LoC event information, visit https://www.loc.gov/loc/events/ .