By GUY LAMOLINARA
Writers with such star-power as John Grisham, Judy Blume, Gwen Ifill, Junot Díaz, James Patterson and Ken Burns are not usually seen in the same venue. But such was the case at the 2009 National Book Festival. The Center for the Book’s role in coordinating the author presentations for the Sept. 26 event resulted in more than 70 noteworthy writers and illustrators appearing at the festival – many for the first time.
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington opened the festival in the Fiction & Fantasy pavilion by giving John Grisham a special award. This was the first presentation of the National Book Festival Creative Achievement Award. The previous day, Grisham had been honored during a luncheon at the Hay-Adams hotel. In making the award presentation, Billington praised Grisham for his “legendary” literary success as well as his charitable work, such as raising millions of dollars for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book (www.loc.gov/cfbook/) and book festival author coordinator, moderated the opening program in the Children’s pavilion, which featured six of the authors of the “Exquisite Corpse Adventure,” a serialized episodic story written exclusively for the new literacy promotion website Read.gov. (See story on page 203.) Cole was joined by Mary Brigid Barrett, president and executive director of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance (www.thencba.org), which is the Center for the Book’s co-sponsor on the “Exquisite Corpse” project.
Pavilion of the States
The Center for the Book also organized and managed the popular Pavilion of the States, where festivalgoers could learn about the center’s reading- and literacy-promotion projects as well as the literary traditions of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories. Representatives from throughout the nation provided information and answered questions about their state’s writers, libraries, book festivals, book awards and reading-promotion activities.
A popular pavilion feature, especially among young readers and their families, was “Discover Great Places Through Reading,” a free map of the United States that could be presented at each table for an appropriate state sticker or stamp. On the back of the map, a list of “52 Great Reads About Great Places” highlights books for young people chosen by representatives from each state and the territories.
The Librarian of Congress made a special appearance at the table where the 14th edition of “The Congressional Club Cookbook” was being sold. The cookbook offers recipes from around the world and includes inaugural ball portraits of presidents and first ladies, as well as photos of historic sites around Washington. Revenue generated from cookbook sales adds to contributions made by the Congressional Club to a variety of local charities.
The Center for the Book was joined in the pavilion by representatives from five of its partners: the Institute for Museum and Library Services, a festival patron that sponsored the pavilion itself; the National Endowment for the Humanities, which sponsored the participation of nine state centers, hosted by state humanities councils; the American Library Association, a frequent project co-sponsor; and the Junior League of Washington, which provided more than 400 volunteers, including more than 40 in the Pavilion of the States. The National Endowment for the Arts, another center partner, sponsored the Poetry & Prose Pavilion.
Many authors delighted their fans by making scheduled visits to their state tables to sign autographs and to greet and be photographed with their fans. They were David Baldacci (Virginia). Patrick Carman (Washington), Margaret Coel (Colorado), Carmen Agra Deedy and Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah (Georgia), Shannon Hale (Utah), Craig Johnson (Wyoming), Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor (South Carolina), Lois Lowry (Massachusetts), Valerie Martinez (New Mexico), George Pelecanos (Washington, D.C.) and Jerry Pinkney (New York).
Let’s Read America Pavilions
Reading-promotion activities sponsored by the festival’s corporate sponsors were presented in the two Let’s Read America pavilions. Cathy Gourley, the coordinator for Letters About Literature (www.lettersaboutliterature.org), a Center for the Book program sponsored by Target (the National Book Festival’s distinguished benefactor), came to promote the program that draws more than 50,000 submissions from students writing to their favorite authors. Festival goers enjoyed having their pictures taken with Bullseye, the Target dog, and coloring in the Bullseye Book of Activities.
The Washington Post featured “Book World” staff and Marie Arana, former editor of “Book World,” who is on the festival’s organizing committee.
AT&T invited attendees to join Dipper, the AT&T Cares star. The Library of Congress Federal Credit Union served up author Sam Renick and his favorite bunny friend, Sammy the Saver, to demonstrate how the importance of saving can be learned through reading. Penguin Group (USA) publishers, ReadAloud.org, Scholastic publishers and US Airways also made repeat visits to the festival. The Digital Bookmobile Powered by OverDrive offered free e-book, audiobook and video downloads. In the PBS Kids Raising Readers pavilion, children and their parents could explore the world of learning through PBS’ many programs that encourage reading and literacy.
Guy Lamolinara is communications officer for the Center for the Book and assistant author coordinator for the National Book Festival.