Threatening storm clouds shifted ominously over the National Mall on Saturday, but the National Book Festival carried on as a celebration of literature and creativity.
More than 70 authors, poets and illustrators were scheduled to attend the festival, sponsored by the Library of Congress and hosted by first lady Laura Bush. Marc Brown, Warren Brown, Kimberly Dozier, Steven Kellogg, R.L. Stine and professional football player Tiki Barber were among some of the big names on hand to sign books and give speeches promoting literature.
“Authors are sort of like rock stars,” said Mary Menzel, director for California Center for the Book, a non-profit organization. “If you find one that sparks your interest, you’re excited to learn about their creative process.”
She added, “It’s great to meet people from every state who are also here to promote reading, literacy and libraries.”
The vast National Mall featured nine main pavilions, each centered around a specific literary genre. An estimated 120,000 people attended the “quintessential D.C. event,” said Sarah Beam, a local volunteer.
Though the event officially opened its doors at 10 a.m., anxious and excited book lovers were ready to explore the pavilions by 8:30 a.m. Beam said she was “a little overwhelmed by the giant scope of people.”
The festival attracts people from all over the country, and the Pavilion of States was a testament to this diversity. Inside this popular tent, representatives from organizations in all 50 states, the District and several American territories, sat at tables to provide information about their homeland.
Many said they saw the event as a refreshing change of pace from the modern emphasis on the Internet and electronic media.
“I love seeing people of all ages and all cultures excited about reading and taking a break from the TV,” said Ralph Ibson, a D.C. resident.
Visitors also reveled in free tote bags, key chains, posters and pens handed out by the festival’s participants.
Tracy Carrseabold, who represented the Mississippi Library Commission, said they came with 17 boxes of promotional items to give out and were cleaned out only an hour and a half into the festival.