What Happened at the 2017 Library of Congress National Book Festival
This weekend I attended my first ever book festival! I spent the day at the Library of Congress National Book Festival at the Washington Convention Center. I didn't know what to expect and showed up excitedly unprepared. The festival website said there would be over 100 authors there including: Thomas Friedman, Roxane Gay, Angie Thomas, Michael Eric Dyson, Condoleezza Rice, and David Baldacci. I was prepared to get books, get bookish things, and meet authors. I figured with it being a rainy, holiday weekend before school starts here in the DC area that it would be a sparsely attended event. I was wrong!
1. The Layout: The book festival took up LEVELS of the Washington Convention Center. Three levels of the convention center were dedicated to panels with authors, including the top level being the main stage. The very bottom level was dedicated to activities for children, a pop up book store, and book signing. As soon as I arrived, I got a map and headed to the pop up book store.
2. Panels and speakers: There was a running schedule of speakers at different times in dozens of rooms. Had I planned better, I would have made my own little schedule of who I wanted to see and I would have purchased my books in advance. I moved around the Convention Center with my map deciding in the moment who I wanted to see. I finally decided I really wanted to see Thomas Friedman (author of Thank You for Being Late-see book review here). Friedman was speaking on the Main Stage in about 90 mins and I decided to find the Main Stage area, then go out to lunch and come back in 90 mins. Ha! I'm glad I went to find the Main Stage because when I got up there I found a very long line 90 mins out from the seeing Friedman and needed to get in line right away. 45 mins later, I made it into the Main Stage room and listened to the tail end conversation with author JD Vance who wrote Hillbilly Elegy. The crowd in the room at the time was large (thousands of people) and conservative. I had not heard of JD Vance before this moment and learned that his book (which was published last year) changed his life. He went from being unknown to speaking on the main stage at a national book festival. He was funny and charming and that was about all I admired about him. Vance presented as a conservative and his book was a memoir about growing up in working class, poor, rust belt, Ohio. Listening to him speak in this crowd before Thomas Friedman was an interesting experience. Immediately following the Vance panel, the crowd cleared and the room refilled with people looking to see Friedman. Friedman was introduced by a reporter from the Washington Post and that reporter instantly got into using words like climate change and mocking the president when mentioning "the failing New York Times" where Friedman works. Friedman came out to speak and the presentation was decidedly more liberal. I enjoyed him speaking as he shared his thoughts behind concepts from his book Thank You For Being Late. Two things he said I wrote down as they really touched me:
1. Being a life long learner is the largest competitive advantage in the accelerator age.
2. Biggest divide is the self motivation divide.
These thoughts and concepts inspired me to keep to doing the work I'm doing. Friedman emphasized the need to keep learning during this day and age. Learning and developing new skills are essential to today's business climate. He gave examples on how self motivation to improve, learn, and grown is truly what separates the successful from the unsuccessful.
3. The Book Signings: I left the Friedman panel 15 mins early get a book signed from Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give. I got down to the book signing area about 15 mins before the signing began and was about number 70-something in line. While in line waiting to meet Angie Thomas, I realized from the schedule I could maybe get another book I purchased signed from author Helene Cooper, author of Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf". After meeting Cooper, I had a choice to make. I wanted to see Roxane Gay but I also wanted to get my book signed. Based on the schedule, Gay was already speaking and based on my experience of waiting in line for Friedman, I figured I had missed my opportunity to see her. Instead, I decided to get in line for the book signing. Fifty mins before the book signing for Gay, I was already number 70 something in line again. When Gay was finished speaking her line was already hundreds of people long. So I'm glad I got to meet her and get the book signed instead.
Some lessons I learned about this book festival: 1. Have a gameplan around what's important to you prior to showing up. 2. Have your books already, and 3. Brings snacks (I was starving!). Overall it was a super cool experience. I look forward to the moment I write a book that gets me featured at a book festival.