First, the pleasant news. Christy and I were invited to attend the 13th annual National Book Festival in Washington. It was my second appearance there as one of the 100 or so featured authors for the year.
The reception on Friday night September 20 took place in the main Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress, with its stunning vaulted ceilings of classical mosaics. That entrance hall is one of the most beautiful public spaces in the world. It lifts the spirit. I wish every child could spend time there on a school visit to the patriotic sites of Washington.
We visited a number of friends at the reception, including our former Baltimore Orioles compatriot Jonathan Yardley, who is now a transplanted Washington Nats fan, and his wife Marie Arana, author of an acclaimed new biography of Simon Bolivar. I got a novel about John Brown signed by author James McBride, but I missed Linda Ronstadt, whose book “Simple Dreams” sold out quickly, spurred by poignant news that Parkinson’s Disease has ended her singing career.
Rumors circulated that the National Park Service will banish the Book Festival from the National Mall beginning in 2014, for security reasons or merely to spare the grass. Future festivals would be moved indoors to the Washington Convention Center. If so readers will suffer a loss, because the outdoor event draws crowds up to 100,000 people circulating among open tents marked by pennant flags for book categories from fiction to poetry.
My hour’s presentation in the History and Biography tent was fairly raucous by literary standards. I argued that our contemporary political discourse is sadly out of balance with the legacy of freedom from “The King Years” 50 years ago. Fearful hostility erodes pubic trust, and liberals are partly to blame. Not even President Obama can discuss the influence of racial politics.
The audience jumped in with lively questions and comments. Here’s the C-SPAN video: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/KingYea.