It was a record-breaking year for the National Book Festival.
Despite record temperatures – which soared into the high 90s – a record 150,000 people attended the all-day event, which celebrates novelists, authors and literature.
More than 80 authors and illustrators were present to speak and sign their books, and President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama served as the honorary chairs. Former first lady and festival founder Laura Bush was present, kicking off the festival with a reading from her new memoir, “Spoken From the Heart.”
Secret Service agents lined the aisles as Librarian of Congress James Billington introduced Bush, calling her the “reader in chief of the United States of America.”
As she finished reading a passage about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the more than 500 people in the crowd stood to applaud.
“Every seat was taken and I had to keep asking people to stop crowding around the poles,” volunteer David Phem said.
Phem was one of the many volunteers that the Library of Congress – the host of the festival – recruited for the event. The Junior League of Washington sent more than 400 of the volunteers and the rest were recruited through mass e-mails sent out by the library.
The History and Biography tent was packed again when GW professor Adele Logan Alexander spoke about her new book, “Parallel Worlds: The Remarkable Gibbs-Hunts and the Enduring (In)significance of Melanin.”
“I usually talk to a group of about 12 people,” Alexander said. “But now I’ve come across something like this incredible festival and I stand before you most humbly in appreciation.”
Alexander’s daughter, Elizabeth Alexander, also read from her new book, “Crave Radiance.” This is the first time in the festival’s history that a mother and daughter spoke at the event.
Steven Roberts and Thomas Mallon – both professors at GW, in the School of Media and Public Affairs and the English Department, respectively – also spoke.
The festival had tents set up for groups of all ages. PBS KIDS Raising Readers had its own pavilion with popular characters to greet the children.
“I like reading way more than T.V. My favorite part was meeting Alpha Pig,” said 7-year-old Kenneth Moss of the festival.
OverDrive brought a digital bookmobile truck where older kids were able to download e-books and sample audio text.
Wil Haygood, Washington Post staff writer and author of “In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr.” spoke about his book in his first appearance at the festival.
“It’s a genuine joy that people on such a bright day – when they have options like playing golf or going swimming – choose to come here,” Haygood said in an interview with The Hatchet.
Haygood said he preferred this year’s heat to last year’s rainy festival.
“At least your books stay dry!”
GW students at the festival said that despite the heat, they enjoyed the event.
“I thought the festival was so great, notwithstanding the heat,” junior Carly Gibbs said. “It gave readers a rare chance to actually interact with authors.”