National Book Festival celebrates literacy, diversity

COURTESY OF TRACIE LIU The festival, which took place in Washington D.C., stressed the importance of reading and writing.

COURTESY OF TRACIE LIU The festival, which took place in Washington D.C., stressed the importance of reading and writing.

By TRACIE LIU

For The News-Letter

The 15th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival, held Saturday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., featured more than 175 authors, poets and illustrators of all genres participating in engaging panels and popular book signings.

The entire convention this year was themed around the Thomas Jefferson quote, “I Cannot Live Without Books.”

This year also marks the 200th anniversary of the addition of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library to the Library of Congress. Accordingly, the first floor of the convention center displayed an interactive wall of paper, stretched out to feature many handwritten responses to the question “What would you most miss if you were illiterate?”

The main floor of the convention included many presentations led by authors of varying genres and subjects, including children’s books, graphic novels, First Nations Writers of Australia, slam poetry and science.

In these sessions authors introduced their works by describing their creative processes and thoughts behind piecing together their works. These presentations were held in large rooms with audience members of all ages and included sign language interpreters to make the presentations accessible to all.

Among these presentations was one by Juan Felipe Herrera — the new poet laureate of the United States. Herrera previously served as California Poet Laureate and holds multiple awards including the National Book Critic Circle Award for his book, “Half the World in Light.”

The National Book Festival was his first public event since being instated as the U.S. Poet Laureate on Sept. 1.

“Muchas gracias — thank you so much,” Herrera said to the audience after being introduced. “Thank you all for being here… and being at school and writing and reading and drawing and being your beautiful, beautiful selves.”

He went on to share the story of his invitation to become poet laureate, starting from the phone call that he received from Head Librarian of the Library of Congress James H. Billington. As he spoke, he kept the audience engaged with many lively call-and-response exchanges of English phrases interspersed with Spanish.

Herrera introduced his new book, “Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes,” which features 20 Latino and Latina heroes picked from a long list of heroic characters. The book includes figures such as David Glasgow Farragut, Adelina Otero-Warren and Julia de Burgos and was illustrated by Raúl Colón.

The final page in the book is a poem dedicated to Victoria Leigh Soto, a teacher who lost her life in the Sandy Hook Shooting while protecting her students.

He closed by introducing the vision he has for his term, which he dubbed Casa de Colores or House of Colors. Herrera said that he hopes to include people of all cultures and colors in poetry.

Herrera also hopes that children of all cultures can be inspired by the works in the Library of Congress and produce poetry of their own color and perspective.

“It’s such a big, beautiful role to have in such a big, beautiful country with so many millions of voices and little houses and big houses, and big hearts,” Herrera said. “I want to do the best I can to reach everybody.”

Elsewhere at the Festival, readers stood in lines with their recently purchased or previously owned books, waiting to meet authors. People were also sprawled across the space reading while reclining on bag lawn chairs or sitting on the ground.

The Festival also featured stations set up by the sponsors and contributors of the event. AARP’s station included interactive games for children and a raffle. National Geographic displayed small exhibits from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center featuring space-themed coloring pages and activities, and the Wells Fargo station included a reading area, a gold panning station and a digital interactive maze.

Many of these stations featured readings and giveaways and were especially popular with younger audiences.

The art for the Festival’s poster was done by Peter de Sève and features multiple depictions of a girl reading a book in various positions around an armchair. De Sève previously designed characters for animated movies such as Mulan and Ice Age. He also led a panel introducing his new collection, “A Sketchy Past: The Art of Peter de Sève,” which included many sketches and images from his work on those movies as well as magazine covers and other works.

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