Saturday, August 25, 2018

Still Life with Robin: Countdown to LOC BookFest

by Peggy Robin

The first Saturday in September is just one week away. That’s how long you have to plan your visit to the Library of Congress' National Book Festival, taking place at the Washington Convention Center.

Last year (see and for nearly all of the 17 past years of the BookFest’s history, I have attended this event on the fly – without a bit of advance planning. I’d show up some time around noon, pick up the brochure with the author schedule, or glance at the big schedule boards scattered around the venue, and wander into this or that author event as it struck my fancy. Well, that’s not good enough anymore. The BookFest has become a victim of its own popularity. Last year’s experience made it clear: if you want to get in and actually get a seat where you can see and hear a bestselling author, you’d better line up well before they open the doors to the salon. A superstar in the literary world these days can easily fill a ballroom to the max allowed by the fire marshal. So this year, I intend to use the coming days to study the schedule, see who’s speaking when, and plan my route and stops.

That’s not to say the whole day will be scheduled like a well-run railroad. No, there will still be opportunities for random stops, for some meandering from salon to salon, dropping in on a reading here, or a history lesson there, or an author previously unknown to me – with spontaneity and serendipity. I figure, there’s only so much standing in line I will do in one day. Even those authors I really want to hear, I may decide are not worth a long, restless wait -- and so off I'll go, and retreat instead to some sparsely populated side room to find a speaker on an obscure topic who can’t attract a crowd, but who really should….because the topic turns out to be oddly compelling. That’s the real magic of BookFest.

But then again, there are those superstars. Here are some of the big names of 2018: 
  • Ron Chernow (who used to be just another respected, serious historical biographer – and now he’s The MAN Who Brought Us HAMILTON!)
  • Madeleine Albright (with her new book “Fascism” carrying the label, “A Warning” just so that we realize how timely and scary it is)
  • John Meacham (you can catch him on CNN almost any night of the week, warning about all the types constitutional crises that can come from presidential mischief)
  • Amy Tan (author of the Joy Luck Club, made into a movie that once held the distinction of being the ONLY Hollywood movie with an all-Asian cast)
  • Annie Proulx (Brokeback Mountain, and more)
  • Roxane Gay (Hunger, Bad Feminist, and more)

To see the full line-up go to: Then, if you’re interested in an author, click on the name and you’ll jump right to a description of the event, time, and stage.

You can also navigate the site by going straight to the schedule page:

Or you can search by categories, such as Children’s Authors, Teens, History and Biography, Fiction, Poetry and several others (all shown on the Schedule page: If you want to map out who you’ll see in what order, you’ll want to know where the different stages are located, and for that you will want to print out an advance copy of the floor plan, which you can do with this link:

Don’t forget to pick up all the free swag you can get: first, the 2018 totebag and poster, and then the small stuff, like pencils, stickers, keychains, kids’ coloring books and games….and of course, you should go for any giveaway books to be had!

Remember, only seven days to go!

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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