If you are curious about noteworthy Americans . . .

Sunday, September 19, 2010; BW09

A theme worth exploring at the National Book Festival is American Lives, which will have you gravitating between two pavilions: History & Biography and Contemporary Life.

Former First Lady Laura Bush (History & Biography at 10:35 a.m.) returns to the festival she launched in 2001, modeling it on a similar event she started as first lady of Texas in 1995. You can begin your American Lives Day by listening to Mrs. Bush discuss her recently published memoir, "Spoken from the Heart."

Catch an early lunch and return to the same tent afterward where Washington Post staff writer Wil Haygood (History & Biography at 12:20 p.m.) will appear. Haygood's most recent book is "Sweet Thunder," a biography of Sugar Ray Robinson, a prizefighter set apart from most practitioners of that sport by his flair for dressing stylishly and his friendships with the greats of jazz.

Directly following comes legendary cartoonist, playwright and children's writer Jules Feiffer (Contemporary Life at 12:55 p.m.). His new book, "Backing Into Forward," is a memoir of how a kid from the Bronx transformed a knack for drawing into an ability to capture in visual terms the zeitgeist of his age: roughly the second half of the 20th century. (Feiffer will also appear with Norton Juster at 11:50 a.m. in Children to discuss their new book, "The Odious Ogre.")

Later James McGrath Morris (History & Biography at 2:40 p.m.) will talk about "Pulitzer," his biography of the man whose genius for giving people what they wanted resulted in the modern American newspaper. In an age when the newspaper business is under siege from the Internet and the audience for news and information is fragmenting, Morris's book takes you back to a time when newspapers dominated the national consciousness, stole one another's best writers and cartoonists, and were powerful enough to foment wars.

-- Dennis Drabelle

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