Thousands of book enthusiasts flocked to the Mall on Saturday to experience the small but exuberant world of literature, where they heard their favorite authors read from their most recent works and discuss a range of topics at the 13th annual National Book Festival.
The event, organized by the Library of Congress, has become a must-go-to event in Washington, drawing area book lovers and out-of-towners alike who started lining up in the early morning. They waited excitedly at standing-room-only readings and packed author appearances, hopping from event to event.
Illustrator and author Kadir Nelson told a crowd of young readers about memorizing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech when he was 9, and how that experience inspired him to work on a book about the speech.
“I like telling stories with my artwork that are about the power of transformation,” said Nelson, whose work focuses on African American culture and history.
Singer and songwriter Linda Ronstadt discussed her new book, “Simple Dreams: A musical Memoir,” and weighed in on the debate over immigration, encouraging acceptance and the welcoming of immigrant children.
The event is even popular with young readers. Tania Mendez-Lopez, 11, of the District said she enjoyed interacting with famous costumed characters such as PBS’s WordGirl, “the girl who knows all the words in the dictionary.”
Tania and her three younger siblings also listened to Nelson talk about his illustrated book and the story of what it was like to be on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington 50 years ago, when King gave his powerful speech.
Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood drew laughs from the audience when she talked about the competition betweene-readers and paper books. When asked to list the five books she would bring with her if she were sent to a desolate island, Atwood asked why she would have to settle on only five when she could bring a Kindle.
“In a perfect world they are complimentary, and there is room for both,” she said.
Novelist Don DeLillo described the art of finding a story as a mystery. DeLillo, whose 1985 novel, “White Noise,” won the National Book Award, is being honored this year as the first recipient of the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction.
“All I needed was an old typewriter and some paper and my imagination. Nothing else,” he said. “It took two years before I was convinced that I was a writer.”
DeLillo will receive the award at a public ceremony on the Mall on Sunday.
Dianne Whitaker, a librarian in Montgomery County, said she looks forward each year to meeting her favorite authors and listening to their stories.
“She’s incredibly witty. She’s an intelligent speaker and yet mixes her comments with humor,” Whitaker said about Atwood. “It is wonderful to see a celebration of books and stories and for all ages.”
Her friend Maria Pedak-Kari said she left the Atwood appearance thinking about the evolution of the e-book, a topic she could take up with her communications students at Montgomery College.
“It is wonderful to see wonderful diversity,” Pedak-Kari said of the festival.
“Thousands of people enjoying books and literature and everything that goes along with that.”