September 18, 2016

WAMU’s Guide To The 2016 National Book Festival

By Tayla Burney

It’s almost here! The most wonderful day of the year for the region’s – and nation’s – book lovers. On Saturday, September 24, the 16th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival will take place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

More than a hundred authors from around the world –including some locals– will descend on D.C. to talk with thousands of readers near and far. The only problem: Who to see?! There are so many options for ways to spend your time that you could run yourself ragged.

That’s where we come in.

Public radio and books go together like peanut butter and jelly. Peas and carrots. Kim and Kanye. We’re a dynamic pair and we at WAMU have the inside scoop on many of the authors appearing. So here are some suggestions for how to spend your day, but do be sure to check out the entire schedule and map to get the full picture.


Festival map

10 – 10:40 p.m. Carla Hayden
Fiction I (East Salon)

Hayden was sworn in as the Librarian of Congress mid-September after serving as the CEO of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library for 23 years. She once joined the Kojo Nnamdi Show to talk about one of Baltimore’s literary luminaries, Edgar Allen Poe, and made history as both the first woman and first African American to head the nation’s library. Hearing from Hayden is sure to be the perfect way to start the day.


10:50 – 11:30 a.m. Yaa Gyasi
Fiction I (East Salon)

Yaa Gyasi’s novel “Homegoing” has been widely-acclaimed by critics like Fresh Air’s Maureen Corrigan. It’s a sweeping, multi-generational tale of the divergent lives two half-sisters descendants live in West African and the United States. Her prose is absolutely stunning and the subject matter is relevant to anyone interested in the ongoing cultural dialogue around race in America.

11 a.m. – noon Stephen King 
Main Stage (Ballroom BC)

I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is, if you don’t already have a reserved ticket, you’re not going to see Stephen King. But the good news is that he joined Diane Rehm on-air late last year for a truly delightful conversation. And, honestly, listening to that might be better than cramming into a conference room with a few hundred of your closest friends. You’re welcome.

11:30 a.m. – 12 Kwame Alexander
Main Stage (Ballroom BC)

Virginia’s own Kwame Alexander will talk about his latest book: a novel-in-verse titled “Booked.” Alexander is a passionate advocate for children’s literacy and finding ways to engage so-called reluctant readers. He’s been a dynamic guest on the Kojo Nnamdi Show and you’re sure to walk away inspired and energized.

11:40 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Colson Whitehead
Fiction I (East Salon)

We knew Colson Whitehead when…! He first appeared on the Kojo Nnamdi Show in 2001 to talk about his novel “John Henry Days.” More recently, he talked with Kojo about poker, the topic of his non-fiction work, “The Noble Hustle.” Now, perhaps you’ve heard, his latest novel “The Underground Railroad” made an early splash as an Oprah’s Book Club selection –and published a month early. It’s also showing up on lots of book award longlists and, in my opinion, the hype is well-deserved. If you miss him at the festival, he’ll also join Kojo on air on September 29 to talk about it, and will appear with WAMU’s Jonathan Wilson at Politics & Prose that night.

12 – 12:45 p.m. Pati Jinich
Food & Home (Room 150)

Pati Jinich has been described as “a walking antidepressant,” and we tend to agree. She’s full of energy and enthusiasm about all things culinary, especially as they relate to her native Mexico. Pati is a resident of this region, raising her family of three boys in the home where she films scenes for her PBS series “Pati’s Mexican Table.” A repeat guest on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, she most recently joined us for a live event, complete with cooking demo, here at WAMU. Pati is sure to brighten your day and make you hungry, so don’t say we didn’t warn you about that last part.

noon – 1 p.m. Jabari Asim
Contemporary Life (Room 146)

A former Washington Post staffer, Jabari Asim now directs the MFA creative writing program at Emerson College in Boston and serves as the executive editor of The Crisis, an NAACP journal of politics, ideas and culture. Last year, he joined Kojo Nnamdi to talk about his latest work of fiction, “Only the Strong,” where characters in a fictionalized St. Louis deal with the aftermath of the Civil Rights era. Asim is sure to bring perspective to our ongoing conversations about race in America today.

1 – 1:30 p.m Lois Lowry
Teens (Room 202)

A familiar name for readers who’ve grown up in the last three decades, Lowry’s work includes award-winners like “Number the Stars” and “The Giver.” She has been a guest on the Kojo Nnamdi Show in the past and we’re very excited to share that she’ll be in conversation with show producer Ruth Tam at the Festival. If you or your children love to read because of her work, be sure to stop by as they discuss her autobiography, “Looking Back: A Book of Memories.”

2:30 – 3 p.m. Gene Luen Yang
Teens (Room 202)

Graphic novels are a wonderful way to get reluctant readers of any age into books. And Gene Luen Yang knows. He’s the author of award nominated titles “American Born Chinese” and “Boxers & Saints,” as well as the “Secret Coders” series. Yang also holds maybe the coolest government appointment there is: National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for the Library of Congress. A National Book Festival regular whose past presentations have led to guest turns on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, you won’t want to miss him.

3:40 – 4:25 p.m. Lauren Groff
Fiction II (West Salon)

Lauren Groff’s novel “Fates and Furies” popped up on lots of award shortlists and even on the President’s nightstand. We at WAMU hosted a meeting of the Morning Edition book club to talk about the book, Groff appeared on the Kojo Nnamdi Show to talk about it, and it’s the Reader’s Review title for the Diane Rehm Show in September. I think it’s safe to say we’re fans of the work, which explores the two very different perspectives partners have within their own marriage.

4:40 – 5:10 p.m. Pam Munoz Ryan
Children II (Hall B)

This author of more than two dozen best-selling and award winning children’s books will be introduced by Michael Martinez, managing producer of the Kojo Nnamdi Show.

5:15 – 6 p.m. Diane Rehm
Contemporary Life (Room 146)

It’s DIANE REHM! Need we say more? Ok, we will. She’s officially a national treasure and our beloved colleague here at WAMU. Earlier this year, Diane and Kojo sat down together on the Kojo Nnamdi Show to talk about her latest book, “On My Own,” and what comes next for Diane after she retires at the end of this year. You won’t want to miss the chance to hear from her in person. Remember: One of her guests is always you!

6:30 – 7:30 p.m. Books to Movies
Presentation (West Salon)

The book is always better. Ok, there’s probably more to it than that. Monica Hesse of the Washington Post, who has joined the Kojo Nnamdi Show to talk about her fiction writing for young adults, will moderate a conversation featuring Katherine Paterson and Patrick Ness about the journey from page to screen.

7 – 7:45 p.m. Peter S. Onuf
History & Biography (Ballroom A)

Love “Backstory with the American History Guys?” (I know, I’m sad we don’t air it anymore too, but you can still listen online and to the podcast.) If you’re a fan you won’t want to miss the chance to hear from the 18th Century Guy in person. The odds he’ll talk about Thomas Jefferson are high, so Virginians may be especially interested!

8 – 8:45 p.m. Stacy Schiff
History & Biography (Ballroom A)

Stacy Schiff has appeared on the Diane Rehm Show to talk about her acclaimed biography, “Cleopatra” and Fresh Air to discuss her latest work “The Witches,” which was covered on NPR. The book is an eerie reminder of a time in our not so distant past when hysteria swept the nation and much damage done before cooler heads could prevail. Not that we can relate to that at all today.

So, there you have it! Wear your comfiest shoes, make sure you have a copy of the map so you don’t get lost, and if you do –I always do– ask one of the very nice volunteers that’ll be scattered throughout the convention center.


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