Novelists John Irving, Tom Wolfe and Jonathan Safran Foer are among some 80 writers and artists scheduled to appear at the fifth annual National Book Festival in September, officials at the Library of Congress announced yesterday.
Organizers hope to draw 100,000 bibliophiles to the Mall during the day-long festival Sept. 24; attendance has climbed steadily since the first festival was held in 2001 with a crowd of 25,000.
The festival is a pet project of first lady Laura Bush, a passionate reader who started a similar event in Texas when her husband was governor. She is the official hostess and suggests to the organizers which authors to invite.
Among the writers scheduled to give readings and sign books are astronaut Buzz Aldrin, presidential biographer David McCullough, and E.L. Doctorow, the renowned author of "Ragtime" and "City of God," who was nearly booed off Hofstra University's commencement podium last year for making anti-Bush statements. ("I thought we were all supposed to speak out," Doctorow later told The Post. "Isn't that what this country is about?")
The festival features seven themed pavilions with writers reading and discussing their works, musical entertainment, and PBS storybook characters and professional basketball players doling out high-fives along the Mall. The Library of Congress will throw a dinner party the night before, where some of the invited authors will also read from their works.
This year's list of writers includes R.L. Stine at the teens-and-children pavilion, Gish Jen at the fiction-and-fantasy tent, plus best-selling mystery authors Tom Clancy and Sandra Brown, NBC News's Andrea Mitchell and New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman and David Brooks. (And for the easily star-struck: TV talk show host Leeza Gibbons will be headlining the home-&-family tent with celebrity home designer Chris Madden.)
The festival is adding a digital exhibit called "Creativity Across America," which features eight touch-screen computer kiosks where visitors can access the Library of Congress's digital archive of more than 10 million artistic artifacts, including music files, photographs and motion pictures. There will also be a Kids' Zone, an interactive gaming center intended to "bring to life the diverse stories . . . that make up America's creative fabric," according to a press statement. Returning this year will be the Veterans History Project, a collection of oral histories, letters, memoirs and photos recounting the war experiences of former and current service members.
The first National Book Festival took place in Washington three days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, prompting Laura Bush to announce in a statement for the second annual festival that no terrorist threat could change "our love of books, reading and storytelling" with family and friends.
Jill Brett, director of communications for the Library of Congress, said the event celebrates "the joys of reading and the genius of American creativity. . . . We have something for every person, something for every literary taste."