As the sounds of anti-war activists rose in the background, more than 90 authors spoke to adults and children Saturday at the National Book Festival – just a few hundred yards away from protests.
Organizers said nearly 100,000 people attended the festival and heard from well-known authors such as Thomas Friedman, David McCollough, John Irving and Tom Wolfe. The event, sponsored by the Library of Congress, featured tents sprawled across the Mall focusing on all genres of writing.
“We came an hour and half to be here today,” said sixth grade teacher Pat Garner of Virginia. “We brought a few of our students with us today, and so far we have been having a great time, seeing all the different tents and listening to some authors.”
In addition to the celebrity authors, many children’s authors and up-and-coming editors and writers contributed to the diversity of the event.
“The thing about this festival that I love is that it brings people from all walks of life together for a common humanity and that’s literature,” said Andrew Carroll, editor of “War Letters,” a best-selling compilation of soldiers’ letters sent home.
Hosted by first lady Laura Bush, who did not attend the event but helped promote it, the book festival was meant to encourage reading for all ages. The book festival has become an annual event since its inception five years ago and continues to draw large crowds from all levels of literary passion each year.
“I was impressed with how many people there were and the number of tents they had set up,” sophomore Laine Guttman said.
A number of festival-goers said one of their favorite attractions was the Pavilion of States tent, which was designed to represent literature from each of the 50 states and U.S. territories.
“They asked each state to bring a children’s book that represented our state, and I am just so surprised at the amount of interest and excitement that I have seen from all the people coming through here,” said Teresa Moiola, a representative of the state library system in Nevada.
Others took a break from protesting across the street to drop by the book fair and listen to some authors.
“We originally came out for the protest, but then we saw the tents set up over here and thought we’d check it out,” said Clare Pankey, a college student from North Carolina. “I am really glad we walked over here. There are a lot of well-known authors speaking.”
While the protesters said they were glad they discovered the festival, some veteran attendees had different opinions about the coinciding events.
“This is the third year we have come out to the book festival, and I think we might have had even more people attend if this protest wasn’t taking place just across the street,” D.C. resident Leann Lawch said. “But I’m not going to let them disrupt my day. I’ve been here for three hours, and I’m not ready to leave.”
While one of the primary objectives of the festival was to encourage reading among children, it seemed that the celebrity list of authors was the greatest enticement.
“I came to listen to all the well-known authors as well as find about some new ones I haven’t heard of,” Lawch said. “I have been here for three hours, and I am still not ready to go.”