The National Book Festival

by Sunita

I abandoned the political scientists for a few hours on Saturday to visit the National Book Festival, which is sponsored by the Library of Congress. Like so many public institutions in the capital, this is free and open (and welcoming) to the public. It used to be held on the Mall in tents, but this year it moved to the Washington Convention Center.

I had late afternoon commitments but my morning and early afternoon were free, and the panel that interested me the most was at 11am. This was a discussion with Aminatta Forna, R.O. Kwon, and Valeria Luiselli. It was in the Poetry and Prose stream and titled “Fiction Through A Different Lens.” Forna turned out to be the chair so she posed the questions and didn’t read from her own work. The panel was very well attended and the discussion and readings were engaging. I got a better sense of Luiselli’s approach and it made me want to read Kwon’s novel, The Incendiaries.

Of course the big draw that day was on the main stage, where Ruth Bader Ginsburg was doing a Q&A with Nina Totenberg. One of my friends who is a judicial politics scholar wondered if she’d make it given her recent treatment for cancer but she was there and good as ever. Or so I heard. The audience to get in was huge and the seats filled up in the session which preceded hers with RBG fans.

I had thought about going because it was an interview with Richard Ford and he was receiving an award, but 15 minutes after it started it was maxed out. Poor Richard Ford. I’m sure the audience was polite but he was reduced to being the warm-up act.

I knew RBG was a rock star and beloved, but it really came home to me at the festival. Everyone in the Metro on the way there was talking about her, and the line to get free stuff at the New York Times booth was super long because they were giving out RBG posters. Another friend of mine, whose daughter just started college at GWU, said she managed to get in and told him it was the best event she’d attended in her life. Me, I just want RBG to keep going forever. Or at least until January 2021. But preferably longer.

In other news, I had my first cold brew coffee, dispensed from this machine:

I’ve been living with coffee obsessives since before graduate school and have owned pretty much every form of coffee-making device around. This was good, but not so different from regular iced pour-over drip to make it worth $3.25 for eight ounces. At least it was available, though, since the line at the Marriott was so long I missed my morning cup.

I also went to the book sale section:

I was unsurprised to discover that the crowd around book-adjacent items was bigger than the crowds around the book tables. Sigh. But it was heartening to see all the children and young people at the festival, and as usual there were plenty of things for them to see and do. I didn’t stay for the signing after my panel, since I don’t collect autographed books and I had to get back for a meeting and an actual political science panel.

But I’m really glad I got to go, if only for one session. I’ve always envied my friends in the DC area who have attended, and they showcase all kinds of writing, including genre fiction. Sadly, there was no romance panel this year, but here’s hoping it returns in the future.