By UPMA KAPOOR
An externality from the age of electronic literature may include the loss of physical pages with their textures in favor of a touch-screen. However, the National Book Festival, held annually in Washington D.C., is a friendly reminder that paper books are neither ancient nor extinct.
The National Book Festival is typically held in September and organized by the Library of Congress on the National Mall. The event is geared toward audiences who are interested in hearing authors read aloud and meeting and discussing literature with these important figures.
Since its creation in 2001, the festival was usually a Saturday allocated to host writers and illustrators across various genres.
With an engrossing fleet of attendees and the ever-evolving nature of literature itself, the festival stretched out to a weekend-long event that now features over 125 poets, authors and illustrators.
My younger sister and I decided early in July that we would happily and graciously sacrifice our Saturday to volunteer at the festival. We assumed that our volunteer positions would entail parading around our devotion to reading and rubbing elbows with some of our favorite writers, maybe gushing about a poem or two together.
Most of that dream came true. The weather was perfect, featuring cloudless skies and almost unbearable heat by mid-afternoon. We were able to find the festival right when we got off the Smithsonian stop in D.C.
As volunteers, we handed out stuffed ponies and stickers at the Wells Fargo tent in the morning till noon. Nothing too glamorous, but nonetheless rewarding.
Our location was prime, since we were close enough to the Teen and Children, History and Biography, Fiction and Mystery and Poetry and Prose tents to catch writers they featured.
During our shift, we were able to hear esteemed young adult fiction writer, John Green, talk about how he grapples with the notion that many teenagers are initially dismissed as immature and unable to grasp larger social and personal values.
Green was not the only young adult fiction writer featured prominently at the festival. Jerry Spinelli, Mary Pope Osborne, Sandra Cisernos, David Levithan, and hundreds of others made appearances.
My sister and I were also able to hear last year’s U.S. poet laureate, Philip Levine, read his poem, “What Work Is,” aloud, and ask Jeffrey Eugenides about his reaction to Sofia Coppola’s adaptation of his work, “The Virgin Suicides.”
The best part is that the festival is a free event open to the entire public. It’s definitely something to mark on your calendar for next year.