Years after the Library of Congress relocated its annual National Book Festival from tents on the Mall, some confusion persists. So take note: The festival now exists solely within the gloriously air-conditioned confines of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where attendees can amble from stage to stage without needing to open their storm-tracker app.
It is also one day and one day only.
That creates a challenge for book lovers. There is so much to see in such a limited time, and festival-goers also have to account for eating, transportation and other logistical obstacles. To help sort out how to do it right, we’re answering some popular questions and serving up helpful tips on making the most of your literary moments from dawn till dusk.
When and where is this magical festival of which you speak?
The Library of Congress National Book Festival takes place Saturday, Sept. 1, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Doors open at 8:30 a.m., which gives you some time to get settled before events kick off at 9 a.m. There are four entrances: one on the corner of 7th and M Streets NW, one at Mount Vernon Square and two on L Street NW.
How much is this going to set me back?
Not a thing, so you’re guaranteed to get way more than you’ve paid for.
How do I get there?
That depends on where you’re coming from, but keep in mind that car parking is limited around the convention center, not to mention pricey. In that case, might we suggest taking Metro? The festival is mere blocks from the Mount Vernon Square Metro station, which is on the Green and Yellow Lines, and a half-mile walk from the Metro Center station, which gives you access to the Blue, Orange, Silver and Red Lines.
The festival is also on a number of bus lines, close to Capital Bikeshare docking stations, and taking a ride-hail car to or from the location is easy.
Where should I eat?
The world is your oyster. In recent years, the number of dining establishments in the neighborhood has exploded, and you could spend all day sampling great meals rather than hearing about wonderful books — but since having a meal is definitely not what your priority should be, let’s consider some quick yet delicious meal options.
For coffee and breakfast, head to A Baked Joint (440 K St. NW) for finger-licking egg sandwiches, melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon rolls and the matcha latte dreams are made of. For lunch, try the jerk chicken sandwich at Sundevich (1314 9th St. NW) or the pastrami on rye at Smoked and Stacked (1239 9th St. NW). For dinner, how about the unconventional diner Unconventional Diner (1207 9th St. NW) or, if you have a bit more time and want something fancier, check out the imaginative small plates at the Dabney (122 Blagden Alley NW).
What can I do with the kids?
The National Book Festival is the perfect place to take the little ones for a day of entertainment. The only thing missing is a nap room. All activities are on the expo floor on the lower level and include an Instagrammable array of literary characters. Snap photos with Clifford the Big Red Dog, Dog Man, Captain Underpants and others before attending readings, taking advantage of giveaways and hearing live poetry performances. There will also be multiple trivia games, an interactive photo booth and a virtual reality experience.
Some can’t-miss authors
It really depends on your tastes, but some high-traffic events will no doubt be the talk with Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor (11:25 a.m., main stage), the awards ceremony in honor of author Annie Proulx (10 a.m., fiction stage) and the chat with young adult author-of-the-moment Jason Reynolds (3:55 p.m., children’s purple stage).
An informal poll of frequent attendees, yielded tricks that insiders were happy to pass along:
●Line up early. There are no tickets for author talks — the events are all first come, first served, which means the buzzier panels will be crowded. Lines form early, so if you really care about seeing a particular author and you suspect you’re not alone, be in line at least 30 minutes before the event’s scheduled start.
●Wear comfortable shoes and turn on that Fitbit. The Convention Center is huge, and must-see authors will be scattered throughout the cavernous space, so you’re likely to be covering some ground.
●Autograph lines can be a real time suck and take you away from illuminating author panels and sessions. So choose your autograph commitments carefully. Which brings us to . . .
●Don’t bring a boatload of books and expect an author to sign them all. This is not the time to get Celeste Ng to sign the 10 copies of “Little Fires Everywhere” you’re planning to give your closest friends for Christmas. (Nor is it the time to pitch that novel you’re working on.) Remember: Other attendees also want an autograph, so keep it quick.
●Festival-goers can enter with one bag only (in addition to a purse or handbag), so plan accordingly. If you’re hoping to get books signed, you may have to winnow your wish list.
While you’re free to bring your own books when you come, you can also buy copies at the festival, courtesy of Politics & Prose Bookstore. If you buy books at the festival, be sure to ease your load by snagging one of the beloved annual festival bags, which are available at information booths around the Convention Center.
The Washington Post is a charter sponsor of the National Book Festival.