Toni Morrison makes a memorable first appearance at lovefest known as the National Book Festival

September 25, 2011

Author Toni Morrison at the Hay Adams Hotel luncheon Friday honoring her National Book Festival's Creative Achievement Award . (Photo by Dan Chung )

You’d think Morrison — who’s won a Nobel, a Pulitzer and just about every other literary prize there is to win — might be blase about another crowd of adoring acolytes. You’d be wrong.

“What’s really comforting for me, being here, is being among people where I don’t have to defend books,” Morrison told the audience at the Library of Congress Friday night.

The 80-year-old Morrison admitted she enjoys reading books on her iPad — especially turning the virtual pages. But when she really covets a book, she insists on holding the real thing in her hands, underlining passages, basically “ruining” it. That’s love.


Saturday’s crowd at the festival on the Mall. (Megan Buerger/The Washington Post )

“It’s been one of the great pleasures of my life,” said festival co-chair David Rubenstein, who gave $5.3 million for this year’s gathering — with the likelihood of more if his extravagant praise of Librarian of Congress Jim Billington was any indication.

Morrison, of course, was the marquee draw and feted all weekend at a variety of events. Sporting a jaunty straw fedora, she held forth on books, reading, politics, censorship and anything else that came up.

At a luncheon in her honor at the Hay Adams hotel, Morrison described her life as a young college student at Howard University in 1949 and was asked about her views of Washington these days.

“I think what I’m most aware of right now — in addition to having President Barack Obama as a black man in the White House — there’s such a level of cruelty,” she told the audience. Americans have devolved from “citizens” to “consumers” and now “taxpayers” — a divisive, sinister “kind of poison.”


Jim Lehrer signs for a fan. (Megan Buerger/The Washington Post )

Although Morrison formally received her award Saturday morning, many of her fans skipped her appearance on stage to wait in line for her book signing. Two hours before Morrison was scheduled to begin, her line was already snaking down the Mall, reports our colleague Megan Buerger.


Ol’ freckleface Julianne Moore greets fans Saturday. (Megan Buerger/The Washington Post)

There was a huge contingent of pint-sized readers with parents in tow. Lots of treats for the kids — and a little star-power for their parents: Actress Julianne Moore.

Didn’t know the flame-haired actress was also a best-selling children’s author? Must not be reading her “Freckleface Strawberry” books. “That’s what these books are about: learning to feel comfortable in your own skin, even if you have so many freckles that some of them connect.”

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