This weekend’s National Book Festival is star-studded. On Friday evening, some of the biggest names in publishing gathered at the Library of Congress to kick off the festival and celebrate their love of reading.
Guests were treated to a program lead by NPR’s Cokie Roberts, who opened with a few statistics that would warm any bookworm’s heart: Over the past 12 years, the festival has accrued more than 1 million attendees. Last year, the Library of Congress estimated that 200,000 people came through the grounds, facilitated by more than 1,000 volunteers.
And this year, 126 authors, poets and illustrators will flock to the Mall to sign books, tell stories and, of course, read to the little ones.
“With every year, this event becomes more and more kid-friendly,” said James Billington, who just celebrated his 25th year as Librarian of Congress last week.
Billington will read Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” at the family storytelling stage on Sunday afternoon as part of the “Books that Shaped America” exhibition currently on view at the Library of Congress.
“The U.N. has pronounced this the year of the book and nobody’s really paid attention to it, but we have,” Billington said. He said the Library is planning the first International Summit of the Book for later this year.
Also present for Friday’s program was Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. In his speech, a moving ode to reading, he reflected on the joy that books have brought him through the years.
“The best thing that happened to me in life was when I learned how to read at age five,” he told the audience. “Seventy-one years later, I still think reading a good book is the most extraordinary adventure a human being can have.”
Each year, the Library of Congress gives a special Creative Achievement award to a standout writer (last year’s went to Toni Morrison). But this year’s recipient, Philip Roth, was nowhere to be found. Little explanation was given, but with this year’s all-star lineup, the show will go on just fine.
Elsewhere at the party: Sisters Jane O’Connor (of Fancy Nancy fame) and Jill Abramson of the New York Times munched on finger foods and chatted about the children’s book they recently co-authored together, “Ready or Not, Here Comes Scout!” The book hit shelves Tuesday. Catch the authors at the Family Storytelling Stage on Saturday at 2:40 p.m.
Thomas Mallon, author of “Watergate: A Novel” and creative director of George Washington University’s creative writing program sat down for a glass of wine with Scottish novelist Margot Livesey, whose book “The Flight of Gemma Hardy” came out earlier this year. Livesey will speak at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Mallon at 2:45 p.m. on Sunday.