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U.S. National Book Festival, History and Reading Education

Updated on April 25, 2023
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

In many ways, music saved my life, and I have the most famous director of the USMC bands to thank for it!

Inside the Library of Congress

The Thomas Jefferson Main Room
The Thomas Jefferson Main Room | Source

The military is to kill people and break things.

— Mike Huckabee, polititican, preacher and penman

Powerful Words Will Be Commemorated

Huckabee's statement from August 6, 2015 appeared in various iterations in hundreds of media posts and articles within 24 hours of his quip. The sentence will doubtless appear in books, poems, plays, and a Saturday Night Live skit - perhaps during a cold-opening farce parodying the first GOP debate leading up to Election 2016.

The sentence is powerful in a way to elicit praise and puns from the public and it may one day be celebrated as powerful literature. Banners of the sentence may fly somewhere at our national book festival.

The festival in 2015 commemorates the 200th anniversary of collecting Thomas Jefferson's personal papers and books for the Thomas Jefferson Building of the LOC. During the War of 1912 - 1814, the British burned 3,000 books belonging to the US Congress. Jefferson offered his personal library to replace those volumes.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Visit the Library of CongressThomas Jefferson Reading RoomCeiling painting
Visit the Library of Congress
Visit the Library of Congress | Source
Thomas Jefferson Reading Room
Thomas Jefferson Reading Room
Ceiling painting
Ceiling painting

America Loves Books and Writing With a Festival

The United States of America has enjoyed and hosted a National Book Festival since 2001, begun under the George W. Bush Administration by the efforts of First Lady Laura Bush and the leadership of the Library of Congress (LOC). In 1995 former librarian Laura Bush had founded the Texas Book Festival with committed volunteers.

Subsequently elected US Presidents have also enjoyed and promoted this festival to literature and literacy. While we may have been at war for more years than we care to remember, America has also been developing a literary culture, even including books about the military.

As Mike Huckabee, who writes books, stated in the first GOP Presidential Nominee Debates on the evening of August 6, 2015:

"The military is not a social experiment. The military is to kill people and break things."

That is a sobering comment. Sure, writing is better than physical fighting.

To paraphrase a Viet Nam Era slogan:

"Makes books, not war!"

In the wake of the British army’s burning of the roughly 3,000 books belonging to Congress at Washington, Jefferson offered to sell the nation his own collection. There were 6,487 volumes in Jefferson’s hands; in the words of the National Intelligencer, the library “for its selection, rarity and intrinsic value, is beyond all price. They formed the core of the new Library of Congress.

— Jon Meacham, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

Origins of a National Book Festival

Our one-day national book festival began during the Bush #43 years, through the Library of Congress Center for the Book, which was founded in 1977 at the end of the Vietnam Era.

The book festival advocates for national recognition and promotion of literacy, reading of all sorts of media (and listening to lyrics of music), and libraries of all kinds. It also opens information to the public about the history and heritages involved in the development and continuation of American literature of all kinds and all ethnic entities in the USA and protectorates.

Since 1984, all U.S. States, DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have Centers for the Book.

My state's Center for the Book is located in Cleveland is a large library, but in Columbus, we have the Ohioana branch at the State Library of Ohio. The state library is located in the historic complex, a place that was home to the production of safety bicycles, mining machinery, and wartime vehicles and machines at the Jeffrey Manufacturing Company. Photos of scenes from the manufacturing floor are displayed around the building.

I abhor war and view it as the greatest scourge of mankind...War is as much a punishment to the punisher as to the sufferer.

— Thomas Jefferson

Campus of the Library of Congress

Library of Congress:
Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue Southeast, Washington, DC 20540, USA

get directions

I Cannot Live Without Books!

— Thoms Jefferson. (This is also the theme of the 2015 festival.)

National Audio-Visual Conservation Center Library of Congress

Library of Congress, Culpepper VA:
National Audio-Visual Conservation Center Library of Congress, 19053 Mount Pony Road, Culpeper, VA 2

get directions

Important movies, graphic, photos, spoken word, and musical media are preserved in this department of the Library of Congress.

Writing Books at "Busboys and Poets" in DC

Citizens, visitors, and our friends around the world see books/eBooks, plays, poetry, and the body of literature on the increase in America. They see it in massive and tiny neighborhood book stores, on the sharing shelves of coffee shops, on review sites like Goodreads, in radio and television book reviews, in social media, and dozens of other venues in cyberspace and on Earth. They see it on the International Space Station as astronauts read and write.

A stunning piece of evidence for recognition of our literary development is the establishment of six units of the company Busboys and Poets by an Iraqi-American, Anas "Andy" Shallal, an artist and activist. The six-shop chain is Number One on Entrepreneur Magazine's list of Great Coffee Shops to Work In. I might move to DC just for that!

The company is listed as " a community resource for artists, activists, writers, thinkers and dreamers" and commemorates the renown poet Langston Hughes, who also worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel.

Perhaps one day we will write and not fight, but until then, we can celebrate the increase in the appreciation of books and authors at our National Book Festival.

Busboys and Poets Locations

14th and V, DC:
14th Street Northwest & V Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20009, USA

get directions

625 Monroe St. NE, DC:
625 Monroe Street Northeast, Washington, DC 20017, USA

get directions

Hyattsville MD:
Hyattsville, MD, USA

get directions

5th and K, DC:
5th Street Northeast & K Street Northeast, Washington, DC 20002, USA

get directions

Shrlington DC:
South Shirlington Road, Arlington, VA, USA

get directions

BOOKSTORE 235 Carroll St NW:
235 Carroll Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20012, USA

get directions

Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.

— Thomas Jefferson

Where Is the National Book Festival?

The book festival is held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center during Labor Day Weekend annually, from 10 am to 10 pm for 12 hours of reading, writing, and poetry fun. Contests and family activities will be available as well.

The book festival is open to everyone and attendance is free, but kiosks with books and other materials will be available for those who wish to buy merchandise.

Hundreds of presenters and entertainers in poetry, prose, and music will be delighting the crowds in 2015 and every year. This is an excellent, inexpensive way to spend Labor Day Weekend.

While residing in Paris, I devoted every afternoon I was disengaged, for a summer or two, in examining all the principal bookstores, turning over every book with my own hand, and putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science.

— Thomas Jefferson

White House Promotion of the National Book Festival

The White House web site maintained a dedicated page for the National Book Festival from 2001 through 2008, then stopped updating it under the Barack Obama Administration. At the same time, Barack and Michelle Obama have served in leadership roles of the annual event 2009 - 2015.

Some information appears on the Library of Congress website concerning years 2009 - 2014, especially the past art posters for each year, but it is scant data compared to the now "frozen" White House page and links.

US Presidents and staff in the future would do well to adjust the dedicated White House page to reflect each administration's contributions together, perhaps in reverse chronological order. Meanwhile, you might like to visit to learn about official promotion of reading and literacy in America.

Walter E. Washington Convention Center

Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Pl Nw, Washington, DC 20001:
801 Mount Vernon Place Northwest, Washington, DC 20001, USA

get directions

Library of Congress:
Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue Southeast, Washington, DC 20540, USA

get directions

Who Will We See at National Book Festivals?

At least 150 different authors, poets, and illustrators speak and give presentations at the festival during its 12 hours. Book signings and interviews will also occur. Genres include nearly all, except erotica, but Romance has its own section.

Some of my favorite people are presenting annually:

  • Buzz Aldrin - One of my astronaut and STEAM education (STEM + Arts) heroes! Landing as Second Man on the Moon in 1969, I hope he can live to see the fulfillment of his dream project: Get Your A$$ to Mars!
  • Tom Brokaw - TV journalist, historian, writer, cancer survivor.
  • Marilyn Chin - Writer, activist, editor, English professor; Pushcart Prize five time, PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award, and others.
  • Kate DiCamillo - Youth Ambassador (see related section below)
  • Harlyn Geronimo - Mescalero and Chiricahua Apache medicine man, great-grandson of Chief Geronimo.
  • Dub Leffler - Illustrator, member of the Bigambul and Mandandanji people of SW Queensland.
  • Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine comic strip - Rat, Pig, Goat, Zeba, and Croc... and a funny little cat). This is the 21st century's Pogo.
  • David Weber - Great Sci-Fi author who created Honor Harrington.

Escape Into a New World: Read!


Nationally Recognized Writers for Youth

Kate DiCamillo, who has been writing for several years, recently developed her own format in hardcopy youth books that we will never be able to experience fully in an eBook.

Kate gave the world Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures in late 2013. It is my kind of story: laugh-out-loud, its characters eccentric and engaging. However, along with text, she and artist K.G. Campbell include some pages with comic book style sequences and even full-page graphics. It is a print multi-media type of thing that kids love.

This and her other books make her deserving of the national recognition she has achieved. She was not writing for fame, so that makes her doubly respectable.

If you have no intention of loving or being loved, then the whole journey is pointless.

— Kate DiCamillo in "The Miraculous Jouney of Edward Tulane" 2006

Rich Cultural and Historical District We Need to Preserve

The convention center is north of the district that includes the White House, Supreme Court, US Capitol, the multi-museum Smithsonian Institution, the US National Holocaust Museum, and the Library of Congress. Any one of these facilities is priceless in its architectural history and the artifacts and data that it contains.

The National Book Festival provides an opportunity to visit this district and experience the weight of American history, arts, and culture. Most of the venues are free to visit.

Americans need to be able to visit these places and have the opportunity to appreciate their country through the eyes of hundreds of years of past events and lives.

If you visit the LOC, look for a copy of the Iroquois Confederacy Constitution, the founding document of the oldest representative democracy of the world.

Reference Map to DC and the LOC

Library of Congress:
Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue Southeast, Washington, DC 20540, USA

get directions

Shakespear Library:
Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street Southeast, Washington, DC 20003, USA

get directions

United States Supreme Court:
Supreme Court of the United States, 1 First Street Northeast, Washington, DC 20543, USA

get directions

Capitol Building, DC:
United States Capitol, East Capitol Street Northeast, Washington, DC 20004, USA

get directions

White House:
The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20500, USA

get directions

Library of Congress Living Legends

The Library of Congress Living Legends are persons officially recognized by the LOC for creative contributions to American life. They are not supported financially, as are South Korea's Living National Treasures, but our legends are still help up to the public as inspiration.

Living Legends to Celebrate

The following list includes a selection of the Library of Congress Living Legends and you can see the entire group at LOC Living Legends.

Muhammed Ali - Inspirational and controversial, he no-showed at a Tonight Show appearance with Johnny Carson, who looked into the camera and told him never to come back. They made peace and Ali returned. Today, he is inspirational not only for the Olympics and boxing, but for overcoming the symptoms of age-related diseases. He keeps going.

Laura Bush - Recognized as an activist and reformer in her own right, aside from being the First Lady to George W. Bush. She instituted the idea of the National Book Festival.

Leontyne Price - Opera star who kindly visited my childhood music class. I shall never forget that day.

Sally Ride - Astronaut and scientist, recently deceased and missed.

Pete Seeger - Pioneer in American music writing and performance, as well as an activist.

Several musicians are included among the Living Legends. Some of them are Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and B.B. King.

Creative entertainers recognized include Carol Burnett and Big Bird.

I hope one day that LeVar Burton will be recognized for his long-time work on the PBS series Reading Rainbow.

Past Legends - About Writing and Why We Write

E.L. Doctorow said, “I start with an image or even a phrase of music or a phrase of language that I find very evocative. And so, I start writing to find out why I’ve had that feeling."

He also explained that as a younger person, he read "everything he could get his hands on."

He won the 2014 LOC Prize for American Fiction that was to be presented during the 2014 National Book Festival, but he died several days before the event occurred. His words mentioned above have spurred much writing and expansive thought. Writers and would-be writers cherish his work and his words.

Doctorow won the National Book Award for Fiction as well in 1986, but it is only one of several writing awards he accumulated in his long life.

Find a Book Fair in your local community or visit the book sale at your public library. Find a garage sale and look at books you've never imagined anyone would write. Read everything you can and then write something.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Patty Inglish MS


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