By GAIL FINEBERG
Because of the large number of authors, poets and storytellers who participated in the 2003 National Book Festival on the National Mall, it is impossible to report in full on every presentation. Included here are several articles that attempt to capture the spirit of the festival and give an idea of the wide range of authors and book-lovers who shared their experiences and their love of reading with the thousands of people who flocked to the Mall to join the fun.
Story writers and tellers by the dozens and listeners and readers by the tens of thousands gathered on the National Mall on Saturday, Oct. 4, to celebrate the joy of reading at the third National Book Festival organized and sponsored by the Library and hosted by first lady Laura Bush.
Sun emerging from dark morning clouds warmed the crowds that, by midday, were swelling to an estimated 60,000-70,000 to see celebrity Julie Andrews, hear their favorite authors and wait in long lines to get their books signed.
The Library and the White House each held events to welcome more than 80 authors, illustrators, storytellers and poets to the festival. At a gala in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Jefferson Building on Friday night, wife of Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, Marjorie Billington, escorted President George W. Bush to his seat in the front row, and then the Librarian and Laura Bush opened the program. Other speakers during the program were book festival participants Bob Schieffer, Steven Carter, Tom Clancy and Julie Andrews, who described to the attentive and enthusiastic audience some of their personal reading and writing experiences.
The next morning after a White House breakfast for the authors and festival organizers, Mrs. Bush extended greetings to "all the bookworms" who come to the festival and thanked the festival's patrons and, most of all, the creators.
"Without you, we would not have tales of mystery, history and heroism. We wouldn't have characters to intrigue us or rhymes to inspire. And we wouldn't have good books to devour, as Julia Glass says, like contestants at a pie-eating contest." Mrs. Bush extolled the enjoyment of books and the power of the printed word, saying that "a good book is like an unreachable itch; you just can't leave it alone."
"Our history as a people and a nation is a great story, pieced together like a quilt, bit by bit, generation by generation," she said. "By reading together and sharing stories, we become part of the fabric of the American community."
Mrs. Bush shared the podium with other book enthusiasts, among them Walter Isaacson, whose latest book is "Benjamin Franklin and the Invention of America." He said Franklin, a voracious reader, prolific writer and the nation's first librarian "would have loved the book festival."
When popular writer Pat Conroy took the stage, he recalled hearing his mother read softly from "The Diary of Anne Frank." The story ended abruptly, and the children wanted to know what had happened to Anne. "My mother had to tell us about the cattle cars and the death camps. Then she said, ‘I want to raise a family that will hide Jews.'" The next day, Conroy continued, "my sister, 6, took me by the hand to a neighbor's house and knocked. ‘We will hide you,' she announced to the startled lady at the door. That's the power of reading," Conroy said.
Thanking Mrs. Bush for promoting literacy, former National Basketball Association all-star-turned-author Bob Lanier gave her an NBA jersey and said, "You believe as I do, that reading is at the core of a child's development." He said the NBA Read to Achieve program has opened more than 60 reading and computer centers for children.
Among those invited to the White House was Rashad Davis, 14, of Richmond, Va., a friend of Mrs. Bush since 2001, when he wriggled close enough to shake her hand at the first book festival opening on the Library's Neptune Plaza. She noted his name and address and later visited him in Richmond.
This year's festival visitors also included members of Laura Bush's Texas book club, readers from a family literacy program in Virginia, seniors from an online book group, members of a mother-daughter book club and librarians from every state in the nation.
Mary Kay Dahlgreen, coordinator for the Oregon State Center for the Book and a statewide literacy program, said she comes nearly 3,000 miles to the National Book Festival "because it is crucial for people to understand how important books and reading are." She and other librarians said the National Book Festival, with its Pavilion of the States, gives them the one opportunity they have in a year to come together to share ideas for ways to promote literacy and reading. "I love the National Book Festival," Dahlgreen said.
Words flowed nonstop from the podiums of eight pavilions. Nearly everyone with access to a microphone could tell a funny, serious or gripping story, even the chefs, home decorators and gardeners appearing in the new Home & Family Pavilion.
Kids had a chance to be heard, too, as they interviewed Julie Andrews and the Librarian of Congress, asked questions of their favorite authors and had their pictures taken with storybook characters on the grounds. A new pavilion for Children and Teens featured writers for older readers, who mobbed their favorite authors as if they were rock stars and waited for hours to collect authors' signatures. Younger ones waited in long lines to see Miss Frizzle and investigate Scholastic's Magic School Bus.
People stood four and five deep at the edges of pavilions to hear popular speakers and four abreast in author-signing lines. They overran a book sales staff and stuffed themselves into the Library of Congress Pavilion to learn about Library services. The Pavilion for the States was packed all day, as was the Let's Read America I Pavilion.
"This was a big success for us," said festival project manager Roberta Stevens. She said the Library gave away 45,000 programs, 27,250 bookmarks, 10,000 posters and 650 cases of water. And Billington added his thanks to all of those who worked so hard to make the third National Book Festival possible. "The festival couldn't happen without the staff of the Library of Congress, volunteers and sponsors," the Librarian said.
Gail Fineberg is editor of the Library's staff newsletter, The Gazette.