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Meet 4 changemakers appearing at this Saturday’s National Book Festival

Julia Alvarez is one of several authors appearing at this year's National Book Festival. (Bill Eichner)
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Trailblazers are coming to this year’s National Book Festival: More than 100 authors will appear at the Library of Congress’ 19th annual event Saturday, a lineup curated around the theme “Explore America’s Changemakers.” “It turns your head a little and makes you think, ‘Who are the people who have changed the landscape of the country or who have changed your mind?’ ” says Marie Arana, the festival’s literary director. “It makes for great conversations and a review of what you think is important.” Plenty of big names will appear during the daylong extravaganza to talk books — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and D.C. chef and humanitarian José Andrés are slated to appear on the main stage, for example. In the spirit of discovering new stories and inspiration, consider veering off the main-stage path and checking out these four changemakers.

Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place NW; Sat., 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m., free.

Julia Alvarez

3-3:45 p.m.; book signing 4:30-5:30 p.m.

Poet, fiction writer and essayist Alvarez is appearing at the festival to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her 1994 novel “In the Time of the Butterflies.” It’s a fictionalized account of four sisters’ lives during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. “It [provided a glimpse of] what it was like to live in a brutal dictatorship in Latin America,” Arana says. “It almost reads like science fiction, like George Orwell or something.” Alvarez, who was born in New York City but raised in the Dominican Republic during Trujillo’s rule, focuses much of her writing on explaining what it’s like for immigrants to come to America — with a particular emphasis on where they’ve come from. “She’s such a terrific spokesperson for the Hispanic experience, for the Hispanic presence in this country,” Arana says. “She’s very special.”

Richard Powers

4-4:45 p.m.; book signing 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Powers is a tree guy: In his 2018 novel “The Overstory,” trees loom large as characters that help the human protagonists explore their relationship with the environment while raising awareness of threatened forests. “This is not our world with trees in it,” he writes in the book. “It’s a world of trees, where humans have just arrived.” “The Overstory,” Powers’ 12th novel, won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and has been lauded as a masterful work of activism. “There are novelists who have become so passionate about using their talents and their skills to talk about something as important as the environment, and that’s really quite a tremendous shift,” Arana says. “Richard Powers is extraordinary in the way he has taken the subject, which to many people is too big and will make their eyes glaze over, and brought it down to earth.”

Barbara Kingsolver

6-6:45 p.m.; book signing 4:30-5:30 p.m.

The Virginia-based author has changed the way we think about work, communities and our lifestyles, Arana says. Kingsolver’s fiction is often political, with plots that revolve around the fight for social equality by marginalized groups; her debut novel, 1988’s “The Bean Trees,” for example, centers on a Southern woman who adopts an abandoned Cherokee girl named Turtle. At the festival, Kingsolver will discuss her most recent novel, 2018’s “Unsheltered,” a story about two families that alternates between two centuries and examines what happens when long-held assumptions about the world are challenged. “It’s been a long time since an American novelist has taken on [this type of social commentary],” Arana says. “You go back to Sinclair Lewis or Upton Sinclair, and they were all about work and the way that we lived at the time, and the very human struggle of just getting by. But Barbara Kingsolver has revived that, all in a brand-new way.”

Parag Khanna

12:30-1:15 p.m.; book signing 2:30-3:30 p.m.

In “The Future Is Asian,” Khanna, who specializes in international relations, argues that the 21st century is “the time of Asianization,” and that the U.S. can’t afford to continue misunderstanding the region. The book, Khanna’s sixth, was published in February. “It’s basically, [the U.S. economy is] done, and the Asian economy is the next big thing,” Arana says, summarizing its thesis. Khanna has an impressive résumé: He’s the founder and managing partner of FutureMap, a strategic advisory firm, and he has degrees from the London School of Economics and the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. At the festival, Khanna is participating in a panel discussion called “The Future of Western Capitalism and the Rise of Asia” with Steven Pearlstein, a business and economics columnist for The Washington Post. The talk will be moderated by financier and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein.