Saturday, September 26, 2009

National Book Festival

We have been in Washington DC this week and today we were lucky enough to be here for the National Book Festival, which is held in a series of big white tents on the Mall. When we planned this trip we weren't aware that this was happening, so it was a happy coincidence that we could take this in. Lots of people!

The biggest part of the Festival is talks by many authors. You can find the author you want to hear in the program and just show up at the appointed tent at the appointed time. The tents are filled with folding chairs, but we weren't able to snag a chair before they were all filled when we went to hear John Irving speak. We got there in time to hear most of Julia Alvarez's talk as well. She is the author of several books about the immigrant experience. She wrote How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents which I read and enjoyed. She was really a great speaker and talked about the experience of having her books banned in a number of schools. I loved her idea that in schools it would be great to help organize parents' reading groups, because she believes that parents who support the banning of books are not really readers themselves and do not understand how it works to live another kind of experience and broaden your view of the world through reading.

I was really thrilled to hear John Irving talk. He is one of my favorite authors and his thoughts on writing were so interesting. He starts a book with the last sentence of the book and works backward to the beginning. He said it is not a device or gimmick, just something that developed and works for his kind of storytelling. His comments on writing were very thoughtful and thought-provoking, especially his thoughts on hard work and practice and rewriting and continuing themes. I have always loved his work and the underlying themes of vulnerability and coping with tragedy with a philosophy of hope and redemption. He is a very good speaker and seems a serious and thoughtful man who works hard at his craft. I sat on the ground and could only catch occasional glimpses through the crowd, of the speaker, but it was well worth it.

Another of today's highlights was a visit to the Smithsonian Museum of African Art. Wonderful.

I have taken so many pictures! But I will need to get home to sort through and decide what is worth sharing.


  1. Are you going to make it to the Holocaust museum. I recommend it. Also the Phillips art museum.

  2. Sounds fantastic.

    I can't imagine not allowing my children to read any book they were interested in -- I'd much rather they read about a taboo experience, or something subversive, rather than trying it themselves or feeling like they needed to act out (of course, trying different things can be good too, so really, banning books is pointless).