♪♪ HODA: Hey everybody, welcome to the 20th Library of Congress National Book Festival.
SALMAN: Hello, I'm Salman Rushdie.
JASON: Hey everybody, my name is Jason Reynolds.
DAVID: Welcome everyone.
We're here with Madeleine Albright.
AMY: My name is Amy Tan.
JOHN: Hi, I'm John Grisham, here with the National Book Festival.
HODA: This year in 2020, when we are in need for inspiration and a way for American ingenuity to lead us forward, these creative lines surely do remind us why the importance of memory, the need for reason and the key to imagination are all rooted in words we find on a page.
That's coming up next.
♪ ♪ HODA: Hey everybody, I'm Hoda Kotb, here, in what has felt like my second home for the last several months.
I am so thrilled, so thrilled to be your host for this celebration of the 20th year of the National Book Festival.
Now, I am a daughter of a librarian who had a long and fulfilling career over three decades at the Library of Congress.
Shout out to Sammy Kotb.
I've been surrounded by books my entire life.
They are part of my DNA and that lifelong love of literature is what inspired me to become a journalist and a writer.
Now, my mom always, always had the fondest memories of LC.
And when I was a kid, she constantly shared with me its message to not just provide a home for its vast collection of history and knowledge, but to share it with the world.
That mission to engage and connect with people has always had its heart in the conviction that books make us better human beings, better able to relate to one another, to think things through and to take us to a better future.
That is why I am so pleased that this year, the festival is dedicated to the theme of American ingenuity.
Ingenuity at its core is simply just about not giving up.
And for those of us who believe in the importance of literacy and how even a few simple pages can inspire us to solve the most complicated problems, the National Book Festival is a perfect opportunity to consider just what American ingenuity can mean.
So now, it is our pleasure to bring you some of our brightest creative minds from every corner of the country and beyond.
Now, anybody who's spent time around the library knows that organization is one of the most important aspects of any collection.
Way back in the 16th century, Francis Bacon wrote, that all knowledge could be divided into memory, which means history, reason, which means logic or science, and then imagination, which is poetry and fiction in the arts.
So what do you say, we start with memory.
In our first group of featured authors, the emphasis is on the need to see all sides of history, especially the personal.
These authors remind us that America's true history is a tapestry of memories, individual testimonials, and personal stories that all need to be preserved.
So we begin the National Book Festival with a memoir by somebody who I know very well.
She is like a sister to me.
She's my buddy.
She's my partner in crime.
I get to see her every day.
So please everybody, welcome the very talented Jenna Bush Hager joined by another book lover, Lisa Lucas.
LISA: Hi, I am Lisa Lucas, director of the National Book Foundation and I'm extraordinarily excited to welcome Jenna Bush Hager to the National Book Festival.
Today, we're going to be talking about her new book, "Everything Beautiful in Its Time".
You know, this was really a love letter, I think, to your grandparents, it felt like.
And what does it mean to write these stories?
JENNA: Well, it really started as I lost my three remaining grandparents.
I lost all three of them in the span of 13 months.
And it started really as journal writing about what they meant to me.
And I'm a little nervous for it to come out because now it's been such a, it was delayed and it's been such a, so long that you know, that it was raw and authentic and it is a love letter.
And it's also an exploration of my relationship with these three people that shaped me very much.
LISA: It's also an exploration of you.
I mean, you're really looking at four generations of a family.
You know, how did that feel to sort of like really look at like where, you know, maybe your grandma started to where your daughter is?
JENNA: I mean, I think in a lot of novels, I'm so interested in generational stories and the stories of those who've come before us and how they shape us, you know.
And one of the things that I found so heartbreakingly beautiful about watching my grandparents age and grow old and unable to walk was the juxtaposition of these new babies that I had.
Their hands without sun spots next to my grandfather's that were covered.
Their optimism, too.
I mean, they didn't realize sitting next to these people that were clearly, you know, on their last summer, you know, soaking up their last moments of life, that they were dying.
And I think particularly now, when we've been locked away and the world is in such a fragile state, the optimism of our babies, of our children, those who the mind, but also some kids that I've interviewed that are marching and using their voices, even when they feel like their voices aren't being heard.
That's what brings me hope.
And so, there is that exploration of what they've gotten from them, but also just that sense that, that life continues to go on and that children really see the best in people.
LISA: So your own journey, has always involved books and teaching.
JENNA: Well, I always wanted to be a teacher.
LISA:Um hmm JENNA: And I mean, I knew.
I mean, I loved to read as a little girl.
I loved the act of it.
I mean, all of my family really were readers and so it's in my DNA.
My mom was a librarian and she was an only child who had a sisterhood of friends who are still to this day, her best friends, but really she found companionship in books.
LISA: Well, you're kind of teaching now, right?
I mean, you've got, in your own way, you know, you've got a book club.
and this book club is like really stressful and people are reading these books.
There's a medallion on them, you know, on the cover.
What is that, like, how do you, why did you start it?
And like, what do you want it to do?
JENNA: Yeah, I mean, in the same way that I was hoping to introduce books to my kids in classrooms that would lead into cool conversations and bring them together.
And so that's what books can do.
They can help bring people together.
They can help us start conversations that are hard to start.
I mean, I feel like I've read books through this process that haven't not necessarily changed my mind, but like you said, opened my mind, that have taken me to places that I may never get to go to because these authors have created characters and these places that feel so real, these characters that I want to meet, I feel like I've thought the world is a different place.
And so, yes, I hope people reading with me do that, too, that it makes a little bit more empathy for people 'cause we live in such a global world.
LISA: And there's a lot in the book about you becoming your own woman.
Did it help you to crystallize the choices you've made and who you are by just writing these stories and thinking about the lessons and your takeaways, your interpretations of those?
JENNA: You know, all of us are not always explored as our full being and especially now, when social media and the world is so connected, which is such a beautiful thing, but everything is so fast that sometimes it's hard to really know anybody, to sit down with somebody and know who they are, you know, other than to just who they come from, who their family is.
There's more to life than that.
And so, yes, that was something that I explore in this book and something I will always, and I think all of us, no matter who our parents are, we have to explore who we are, you know, on our own, what we believe, what we stand for, how we will use our voice and both of my grandmothers, actually, because I come from a family of people, you know, and people you don't, use their voices in very different ways.
And I think any of us can explore those who came before us, because I think it really helps us understand who we are.
LISA: Yeah and you know, your grandmothers made some incredible women.
I mean, your mother founded the National Book Festival, which you're speaking at.
JENNA: I know, she founded it.
I remember going on the National Mall.
I was 20 years old and it was such a part of our life.
I mean, I think, I still am so proud of her.
She started the Texas Book Festival, too.
She left these legacies that Mrs. Obama, obviously, continued in D.C. and it continues to this day.
It's a place where people can come and talk about books and be together.
And I think she has a little message for everybody that's watching today.
LAURA: Congratulations on the 20th anniversary of the National Book Festival, I'm proud to have been a founder of this celebration of reading.
As a librarian myself, I built my career on books and reading.
So I'm thrilled to have partnered with the United States Library of Congress, the greatest repository of memory, reason and imagination in the history of the world.
For centuries, books have influenced the way we think or react.
They spark interesting discussions, transporting readers to another time or place.
Books unite families for evening story time.
And they'll always play an important role in our lives.
And during times of uncertainty like these, books can be especially relevant and comforting.
In 2001, then Librarian of Congress, Jim Billington, suggested we host a National Book Festival, much like the very successful Texas Book Festival that I'd helped start when George was governor of Texas.
Now, two decades later, the National Book Festival has become a treasured Washington tradition attracting the best authors, poets and illustrators from around our country, and even from around the world.
It's one of the nation's longest running and most loved events, a testament to the enduring influence of books.
A heartfelt thanks goes to the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden.
She's enthusiastically made the National Book Festival an even bigger celebration, so to all the book lovers out there, enjoy this year's National Book Festival from the comfort of your own living room.
And of course, keep reading.
HODA: Thank you, Mrs. Bush.
The National Book Festival is truly a gift that you have given this nation.
In any normal year, this festival would not be virtual, but this, as you guys know, is not a normal year.
We're all stuck in our personal spaces.
So we thought it might be fun to open the doors of America's library, in addition, to bringing you all of these incredible authors.
So now, I am pleased to introduce our Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, for a little bit more history about the library.
Well, actually, our library's extraordinary collection.
CARLA: Thank you Hoda.
We're so happy to have you with us this year.
Please, give our warmest regards to your mom.
I'm standing in the library and ceremonial office and it, just like the rest of the library's historic spaces, has certainly stood the test of time.
Throughout its over 200 year old history, the Library of Congress has found the ingenuity to persevere and carry on many times over.
When British forces burned a significant portion of our collection during the war of 1812, one of our earliest leaders offered his own library as the seed of its rebirth.
A replica of Thomas Jefferson's personal library of over 6,000 books stands at the heart of the Library of Congress and speaks to the importance of preserving knowledge, not just in one area, but in all of them.
But as we also know, even Thomas Jefferson did not have all of the answers.
The work building this country was rife with contradictions, speaking about the freedoms owed all people while it was still denied to so many.
And these are battles we are still fighting today.
But what we see in a library like this is evidence that the answers to so many of these questions lie in our stories and in knowledge and education.
And these authors are here to help inspire us and how to turn that uncertainty into the ingenuity we need to envision better times ahead.
HODA: Thank you, Dr. Hayden.
I'm so happy to say she'll be back throughout this program.
She's going to show us around the library even more.
But first let's continue our journey through memory with two people who know the Library of Congress very well.
First, our newest United States Poet Laureate, and then our latest ambassador for Young People's Literature, who's also a D.C. native.
JOY: My name is Joy Harjo.
I'm the 23rd US Poet Laureate, a member of the Muskogee Creek nation.
And I'm going to read this poem called "Running".
We rely on a lot on memory.
We're made of memory.
We're made of a memory of grandparents, parents, all the way back, and it includes trees.
It includes the memory of the lands on which we walk, the waters.
At some point, we have insight and compassion for every moment of history and every story.
And we realize that they're all of us, that's all part of us.
"Running" It's closing time.
Violence is my boyfriend with a cross to bear hoisted on by the church.
He wears it everywhere.
There are no female deities in the Trinity.
I don't know how I'm gonna get out of here.
Said the flying fish to the tree, last call.
We've had it with history.
We, who looked for vision here in the Indian and poetry bar, somewhere to the left of hell.
Now I have to find my way when there's a river to cross and no boat to get me there, where there appears to be no home at all.
My father gone, chased by the stepfather's gun.
Get out of here!
I found my father at the bar.
His ghost at least, some piece of him in this sorry place.
The boyfriend's convincing to a crowd.
Right now, he's the spell of attraction, What tales he tells in the fog of thin hope, I wander, this sad world, we've made with the enemy's words.
The lights quiver like they do when the power's dwindling to a dangling string.
It's time to go home.
We are herded like stoned cattle, like children for the bombing drill, out the door into the dark street of this old Indian town where there are no Indians anymore.
I was afraid of the dark because then I could see, everything, the truth with its eyes staring back at me, the mouth of the dark with its shining moon teeth, no words, just a hiss and a snap.
I could hear my heart hurting with my in-the-dark ears.
I thought I could take it.
Where was the party?
It's been a century since we left home with the American soldiers at our backs.
The party had long started up in the parking lot.
He flew through the dark, broke my stride with a punch.
I went down, then came up.
I thought I could take being a girl with her heart in her arms.
I carried it for justice, for the rights of all Indians.
We all had that cross to bear.
Those old ones followed me.
The quiet girl with the long dark hair.
The daughter of a warrior who wouldn't give up.
I wasn't ready yet to fling free, the cross.
I ran and I ran through the 2:00 a.m. streets.
It was my way of breaking free.
I was anything but history.
I was the wind.
JASON: Hi everybody, my name is Jason Reynolds.
I am the current national ambassador for Young People's Literature, coming to you from my home in Washington, D.C.
I'm currently in my office where I do all my work, as you can see all the books behind me.
I'm also the author of "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You".
History has to be spoken about as conversation because ultimately, that's what it is.
I think creativity comes into play when it comes to the retelling of the thing or the telling of it in general, because I think we live in a world where young people are hyper-stimulated and that's not necessarily a new thing anymore.
And so as a writer, we have to figure out how to not fight against those things, because we're going to lose that fight.
Our job is to work with those things and to meet them where they are and to create hyperstimulation even within the pages of a book.
"Stamped", the purpose behind it is to make sure that this information is as accessible as possible so that we can sort of arm ourselves with information, create new vocabulary, and hopefully, begin to actually push the line and move the needle as it pertains to the conversation around race in America.
Because that language attaches itself to our memories and our psyches and our coding, right?
So if we stop thinking about something being not racist and start thinking about how we can be more anti-racist, the simple shift in language changes the way that we move around the world.
It changes the way that we engage with people around us.
I think history living in a bubble is dangerous because what it allows us to believe is that there's no more work to be done.
It allows us to believe that what has happened in the past has stayed in the past, but we all know that that's not true, especially those of us who are living any sort of marginalized lives in this country.
I mean, we all know the story of Thomas Jefferson or at least we know bits of it, but to look at Thomas Jefferson, as a man who was full of contradiction, a man who went back and forth between knowing that slavery was wrong, but not being willing to stand on his ethic because of his need for money and understanding that slavery was capitalist and an economic advantage, right?
It's a complicated thing.
And to see him sort of teeter back and forth his entire life between doing the right thing and living the wrong thing, between knowing slavery was wrong, but owning slaves.
He represents what I think a lot of us feel, not necessarily in a sense of the ownership of humans, right?
Of course, not that.
But in the sense of grappling with one's morality up against the realities of a country's sort of economic system.
And what I'm hoping now is that we're on the precipice of another brilliant innovation and that innovation is going to basically be the reformation of a lot of our systems, the acknowledgement of a lot of our harms and wounds, right?
This is a very different kind of ingenuity.
The most creative thing, the most brilliant thing that America ever made was America.
That that was sort of the fever pitch of creativity, was the making of the country.
The first draft got us here and now it's time for a rewrite.
And that's going to be painful like anybody who writes novels for a living, you know, to cut out something is a painful thing, when you loved that part of the story, you loved the language you were able to come up with, you loved the moment of genius, you thought you had at that moment, but then you look at it years later and you realize it doesn't hold up.
And now it's gotta be stricken from the text and it's complicated and painful, but it's necessary to make the story the best version of itself, right?
And when I think of American ingenuity, I'm thinking now it's time for an edit, a bold red marked edit.
CARLA: Inside the Library of Congress' Great Hall.
people from all over are welcome to research and investigate, not just history books, but those first person narratives from our nation's past that are so important to giving us a complete picture of how life really was.
We were very sad to hear recently of the passing of Ola Mae Spinks, a retired school librarian from Detroit who helped organize the slave narratives in our collection, along with Phyllis William.
Mrs. Spinks' work perfectly exemplifies the role of memory in our American ingenuity and the importance of ensuring that these stories will never be forgotten.
The most painful history is the history that we must teach.
And we're proud to give these memories a permanent home.
Now, here's the award for the Library of Congress prize for American fiction.
Given in years past to some of the greatest names in modern literature.
Philip Roth, Toni Morrison and Marilynne Robinson, for example.
This year's recipient is Colson Whitehead, a multiple Pulitzer prize winner who has devoted his most recent work to memorializing some of the personal stories that history has too often overlooked.
MARIE: Colson, a very big congratulations to you from the Library of Congress, which is where I'm sitting right now in the Member's Room in Washington, D.C.
I'm Marie Arana.
And I'm the literary director of the Library of Congress.
And what exactly would you say, Colson, ingenuity is to you?
COLSON: Given what I've worked on for the last like six years, those two books, I would say it's survival.
A slave escaping North.
A slave surviving and protecting their child, so their child can perhaps be born to a better world.
And in that generation or generations after that, be free, enjoy freedom.
And then, I've been reading a lot about New York in the seventies and again, survival comes up.
I think after this pandemic subsides and recedes, New York and the rest of the country will need a lot of TLC.
I think New York always bounces back.
I'm reading a book about the arts in New York.
New York City in the seventies was in a terrible place, was broke, dirty, everyone angry.
And there were artists inventing hip-hop, artists inventing punk, inventing a new form of jazz, New York salsa.
So in the ruins of this very dilapidated New York City, you have artists coming together to make this really, these really vital songs and new forms of music that didn't exist.
And that's survival, transcending your environment to make something new and pass something on.
MARIE: There's a constant awareness of race in all of your books.
So obviously, this is something that's very much on your mind.
Is it something that's deliberate or is it something that just is there, a part of you and the way that you speak and see the world?
COLSON: Sure, I mean, you know, my race, my Americanness, my New Yorkness, define how I view things.
One of the, you know, one of the many lenses through which I view the world and may inform my work, definitely.
I have some books where race is important and some books where race is not important at all, but race does, you know, define so much of my experiences in life.
And I'm glad that I can address it in this or that piece of fiction.
And like the city, find different ways of talking about it.
Race functions one way in "Sag Harbor" which was about being a teenage Black kid in the 1980s differently than in "Underground Railroad", which steps back to examine slavery and institutional racism and how an attitude towards Blackness, white supremacy has defined our country.
And so, if I can find different ways of talking about race or history in the city, I think I'm doing my job.
MARIE: So it seems to me that you're being drawn into a historical mode, in your latest two works.
Is this now a passion of yours or is it a phase?
COLSON: Going to the past has provided a lot of material and forced me to think about how we got here in different ways.
Researching the Jim Crow era, in "Nickel Boys", I understand how the big laws restricting Black life and the smaller laws that provided daily humiliation for Black citizens, I understand them differently.
And so, I found what things are talking about by going into the past.
And in doing research, I find a different way of viewing things.
And it's been very useful for my work.
MARIE: I was really impressed when I heard you say the other day, some time ago, that you use primary sources.
Why is memory, perhaps in that kind of narrative, just as important as the evaluated considered examined history?
COLSON: Well, I mean, there's so much that in, say "Underground" and "Nickel Boys", that lives because it's stuff that wouldn't exist in a historian's account.
It's the slang, it's nouns and verbs that escape the official narratives.
And so, it's invaluable to a fiction writer, but a historian would we never think to preserve.
It's what makes, I think, those last two stories definitely sing.
And without those first person accounts, we lose so much of how we used to live and how people used to dream.
HODA: Thank you, Marie.
Now, here are three incredible women with their take on memory and history, starting with brilliant up and coming author, Sarah M. Broom, about her first novel, National Book Award Non-fiction winner, "The Yellow House", and why every family has a rich story to tell.
SARAH: Hi, I'm Sarah Broom.
And I'm in Harlem.
I wrote "The Yellow House" to answer what is at once, a basic, but also existential question about who belongs, whose stories get told.
I wanted to speak into a void in the literature.
I wondered why the stories of me and my family and my 50 nieces and nephews didn't exist in the oft-told narrative of New Orleans.
I wanted to make a book that was the beginning of an answer to a question about how our lives mattered and how we deserve to also be on the American map and in the city story of itself.
This book is not only a book about a house that I lived in and that I loved and that in certain ways, remains a part of me, but it's really an attempt to think about what it actually means to belong to a place.
What it means to feel that you have somehow come from a place that has shaped you and made you into the person you are.
All of us who are from families, understand that over time, we build family lore.
And these stories, for instance, are told over and over and over again.
And throughout generations, we often accept these stories for what they are.
And so, my work was not just to be in relation to my family, as you know, the youngest in my case of 12 children, but to interrogate the stories that had been told from birth.
And, you know, part of it, I think is to look back with courage and with bravery and to think about context.
And I think that going back, that revisiting, you know, James Baldwin says, has this wonderful line.
I returned here because I was afraid to.
And I think for me, that was the cost to facing my fear and all the things I didn't want to know, but that I ultimately knew had to be dealt with and faced.
And so memory, I think is one thing, but I think it's also important to go beyond the things we remember, to inquire about other people's memories, to fact check our memory because memory can lie, actually.
And so for me, that really was the work.
The thing that we all have to learn, I think from history, is that it is a made composed thing.
And it's important to always ask the question, who is doing the composing.
DAVID: Welcome everyone.
We're here with Madeline Albright, the 64th Secretary of State.
And we're here to talk about her new book, "Madeline Albright: Hell and Other Destinations".
So Madeline, why is history so important?
Why is it important that people write books about what they've done?
Why do we really need to know about what you did as Secretary of State?
Why is history so important to you?
MADELEINE: History is incredibly important to me because I have seen what happens when people don't know their history or don't understand the effect of their history and how it shapes people's lives.
And I think, you can't function in the world today, if you don't understand the history.
And so, I do think it's incredibly important.
And I do think that sometimes, it is elaborated on, well, with personal stories.
And so, I just have been talking to some of my former students and they love to hear some of the stories that are part of the history that I was involved in, the relationship with various leaders, how you deal with people that have done terrible things like Milosevic, with the Serbs and how you get your point across.
So I do think history and telling it in a way that grabs people's imagination and puts the reader or the listener into understanding what was really taking place at the time, in order to understand how issues came about and how they were solved.
DAVID: "Hell and Other Destinations", this is your seventh book.
Where did the title come from?
MADELEINE: The most famous thing I ever said was that there's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other.
It was so famous, it ended up on a Starbucks cup and it came from my own experience where as I was trying to develop my life, in many ways, I found that there were many women that were judgmental about what I was doing.
It was a very different era and they would say, why are you going to get your degree when you should be at home with your children?
Or besides, my hollandaise sauce is better than yours.
Or as I traveled around with Geraldine Ferraro as vice-presidential candidate, there would be women that would come up to me and say, how can she talk to the Russians?
I can't talk to a Russian.
And I thought, why is it that women project our own sense of inadequacy on other women?
So I thought that we needed to, and I was so often, David, the only woman in the room.
And I kind of thought, we need more women in the room.
And there is a special place in hell for women who don't support each other.
And so, that's where the statement came from.
I hadn't focused, this book was written before the virus.
I hadn't focused on the fact of how germane the title is today.
DAVID: When you served as Secretary of State, what would you say is the greatest accomplishment that you're proud of, of having done the job of Secretary of State, other than being the first woman of being Secretary of State?
MADELEINE: Well, I was so thrilled to be able to represent the United States, first at the UN and then as secretary at a really fascinating time in terms of what had happened in the post-Cold War period and what the role of the United States was going to be.
And my background is so crazy and the history part is important.
My father had been ambassador in Yugoslavia, the Czechoslovakian ambassador.
I actually understood the Balkans and I understand the language.
And so I do think that the most, the thing I'm proudest of, that I did, was to help to end the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
And it's 20 years now that this happened.
And I think that it is something that I'm really proud of.
DAVID: The theme of the book festival this year is American ingenuity.
And you are an example of a great immigrant who has come in, risen up to the top in the United States.
But how would you describe ingenuity as part of your life?
Or what would you say is a part of your life in terms of ingenuity?
MADELEINE: Well, one of the things I was asked to describe myself in six words recently and I said, worried optimist, problem solver, grateful American.
And I have always tried to have a positive view about what can be done and to really try to solve problems.
And I am grateful to have been able to come to the United States.
And so, the combination of all of that, I do think what is remarkable about Americans is the sense of ingenuity and exploration and trying to solve problems.
And so, I'm glad to be able to, hopefully, see changes that will allow us to solve some of the problems and use our ingenuity and not look backwards.
DAVID: Well, Madeline, I enjoyed thoroughly, reading the book.
Congratulations on getting it done and congratulations on everything you've done in your career and for our country.
Thank you for doing this.
MADELEINE: Thank you, David, for all you do and for our friendship.
SANDRA: Hi, I'm Sandra Cisneros.
And I'm speaking to you from my living room in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
I think that as a writer, that my officio, my profession is one in which every time I sit down here at my desk, I have to work at opening my heart, starting from that place.
That's how I can be innovative.
That's how I can express things.
That's how I can transform what I've witnessed into writing.
And to me, this is a sacred moment because I think about like, when I wrote "The House on Mango Street", I was a high school teacher.
I didn't have any money.
I had to bring my own chalk to the class.
My students were living in dreadful conditions.
They had lives that were, things I couldn't invent, tragic stories.
I started collecting their stories and writing them down and putting them in this neighborhood that I remembered from my past that I was peopling with my current life, the students.
And now, I can look back and see, wow, you know, maybe at that moment, it seemed like those seeds I was planting, weren't going anywhere.
I didn't see the harvest right away.
It took 10 years, 20 years before I could see that now, those stories that I collected and that I put under one cover traveled back to that same community are being used in that neighborhood, are being used in schools across the nation and across the globe.
And the one lesson, "The House on Mango Street", taught me is that when we're working with our hearts and with our complete hearts, con pur amor, with pure love, on behalf of those we love, and with no ego involved, tiempre sale bonito, It's always going to turn out well.
And that's perhaps a law, one of the laws of the universe, The one that I know for sure.
: Because the theme of the festival is American ingenuity, really, the focus is both on the peril that America is in, but also on the fact that we can find a way forward and we must find a way forward.
IBRAM: One of the cultural elements that I think has been passed down through the ages has been the ability to laugh, even at a nightmare, to be happy, you know, even in the midst of misery.
BRUCE: But I think that there's a lesson in our country's story for each of our individual stories, which is that we might like to think that we created this great country, our founders did generations ago, and we can just live it in.
And what we've learned is that every generation, we have to recreate, keep revisiting and renewing the idea of this country.
VERONICA: It took three generations of women to get the vote.
So I think that idea, if it's going to take decades, if the movement you're fighting for may not be achieved in your lifetime, the idea that you're constantly thinking, how do we keep this conversation on the table?
SABAA: So to me, that is sort of the heart of American ingenuity, is this idea of us all being part of that story and making that history stronger and better than ever with our own stories.
♪ HODA: While memory or history helps us acknowledge the difficult parts of our past, that may have been overlooked, we depend on reason to help us make sense of it all.
We'll get a lesson in character and understanding from a novelist who knows his way around the musical instrument in a moment.
But first, here's the great biographer and historian, Jon Meacham, with his take on the importance of reason as it relates to American ingenuity.
JON: I'm Jon Meacham in Sewanee, Tennessee.
The great possibility of America, both of the American past, and arguably, if we do it right, of the American present, is that we affirmatively decided that reason and an emphasis on the individual as opposed to the collective would be a guiding principle.
We don't win many of those battles, but the constitutional order ended the notion that we would check and balance our passions and our predilections, our tribalism, and our temporal appetites with some sense of reason over passion, is a central gift.
Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglas, they were about using reason, using the gifts of the enlightenment to find a way forward that would transcend superstition, transcend a reflexive caving to authority.
That's at its best, what the Jeffersonian tradition, what the American tradition can do.
It was the tradition of Dr. King.
It was the tradition of John Lewis.
It was the tradition of Frederick Douglas, who said that he knew of no soil, better adapted to the growth of reform than American soil.
It will only be that way if the nutrients include reason, the capacity to believe what we see, to take account of reality, and then to let the work of our hearts intersect with the work of our minds in order to produce a genuinely more perfect and more just union.
That to me, is the great gift of American ingenuity.
JAMES: My name is James McBride.
And I am talking to you from my living room in Lambertville, New Jersey.
The living room contains my piano, a lot of my music paraphernalia.
Next to this room is my writing room, which contains my typewriter and computer and all that jazz.
I move from one room to the next, during the course of my day, when I write.
I write and then I come here and play a little bit, play my saxophone a little bit.
Then I go back and write.
My new book is called "Deacon King Kong".
And it's about a community in Brooklyn that was inspired by the Red Hook housing projects, where I was born and where I still work.
And it's about a deacon who, an old deacon from the church who drinks, you know, joy juice, to be happy.
And he gets really tagged one day, he just gets blasted and picks up his old peashooter and goes out into the plaza and shoots the worst drug dealer in the housing projects.
He doesn't kill him, but he shoots him.
And this shooting sets off a wave of activity that allows us to see the church, the neighborhood, the people, the environment of Brooklyn, New York in 1969, when this book takes place.
When you create characters, you're allowing people who you'd like to meet into your space, so that they might give you some understanding as to who they are.
And then your job is to share that with a reader in a way that allows you to see the humanity and kindness and goodness of their character.
As a writer, you're always attuned to the sincerity of people and to what they're really saying and what they're really trying to do.
The process of writing and creating characters, some of that comes from the business of learning how music works, because music requires a certain technical knowledge that you just have to be able to understand in order for a melody to grow.
So here's a crude example, I mean.
That's just, that's a song everybody knows.
Well... ♪ That comes from your ability to know that this note (piano chord) can be played, you know, this way (piano chord) or this way (piano chord) or this way (piano chords) or this way (piano chords).
And so you're dressing up this character with these other characters.
So with writing, you have the same business.
You have that (piano chord) and then this, you know, this character is going to do something and what he's going to do determines the flow of your plot, because your plot is based on the push and pull of good and evil within that character or set of characters.
Now my job is to make sure that this character moves toward the commonality of the human experience.
And so, I'm restricted in the sense that I can't create characters that simply pull out a pistol and shoot the guy.
There's a reason, if there's a reason or a causality behind it, then the exploration of that reason is the story.
So in "Deacon King Kong" for example, it happens to begin with an act of violence.
But then, the book stretches on for, you know, 250 pages, you know, working around that one act to show the reader why this happened.
But it's the coping, that's where the story is.
I mean, the coping is the joy and the joy is the journey.
And then when you write books or poems or anything, you want to take the reader or the viewer, or the art appreciator on a kind of journey that allows them to see that we can do this.
TRACY: I'm Tracy K. Smith.
I served as the 22nd United States Poet Laureate back in 2017 to 2019.
I'm going to read a poem that I wrote that comes out of anxiety and frustration for the degree to which we, as a nation, sometimes forget that we are kin, forget that we are all valuable, necessary, and that we should be welcomed in this nation that we belong to.
The poem is also a series of questions.
And I hope that what questions do is guide us to better questions and different routes of thought and action.
"The United States Welcomes You" Why and by whose power were you sent?
What do you see that you may wish to steal?
Why this dancing?
Why do your dark bodies drink up all the light?
What are you demanding that we feel?
Have you stolen something?
Then, what is that leaping in your chest?
What is the nature of your mission?
Do you seek to offer a confession?
Have you anything to do with others brought by us to harm?
Then why are you afraid?
And why do you invade our night, hands raised, eyes wide, mute as ghosts?
Is there something you wish to confess?
Is this some enigmatic type of test?
What if we fail?
How and to whom do we address our appeal?
JOHN: Hi, I'm John Grisham here with the National Book Festival, a wonderful event that I've taken part in several times before, I am in Charlottesville, Virginia, downtown, where I have an office, where I do not write.
We live on a farm about 10 miles south of here, where I live and write early in the mornings and come to town midday to take care of the business and to get out of the house.
Published a book in April called, "Camino Winds".
It's a sequel to a book I published three years ago, called "Camino Island".
It's a book with no lawyers, no legal thrillers, no suspense, just an old fashioned murder mystery around a bookstore in a fictional place in a fictional island in Florida.
My last legal thriller was "The Guardians", that was published last October by Double Day.
And it's a story of several wrongful convictions, totally fictitious, but based on a real person and a real organization.
Over the years, I've just tried to use the, not a platform and not a soap box and not a pulpit, but a way of raising awareness about certain issues that really trouble me, especially dealing with criminal justice and criminal justice reform and criminal injustice and our system, because that's what I understand 'cause I'm a lawyer.
I was a lawyer for a long, for 10 years in a small town.
That's where my interest is.
And when you live there, there's no shortage of good material.
And there's some issues I care about deeply.
And I've written about those.
And it's a way of telling great stories which is the ultimate goal, every time I start to write, is to tell a great story.
But also if it works properly, it can be very suspenseful, very enjoyable and very informative.
It can raise awareness because it can raise awareness for certain issues.
And I think as I have gotten older or matured, I've been more concerned about writing about more serious issues.
And so, you know, I write about that.
In "The Guardians", there were two or three cases, there's one central case and two or three others that I kind of go into some detail.
But that book was inspired by a real person who for 40 years, did what the hero of the book does.
He just traveled the country taking one case after another, cases in which he was convinced that his clients were innocent and it's tedious long work, it takes years.
And Jim McCluskey did it for 40 years out of Princeton and his non-profits there.
And he freed the 63 people who would be locked up today, if not for him.
And if we would take, if we would look at some of the things we do in the criminal justice system, and just ask ourselves, is that really reasonable?
Is it really reasonable to arrest that many people?
Is it really reasonable to have two and a half million people in prison?
And why are they there?
If we would question, and this is all being questioned and the answers have already been given.
Again, it goes back to the political will to get it done.
But we, as Americans, with our system, we have the ingenuity and the courage to make it happen.
With time, you're talking about wrongful convictions.
We've come so far with DNA testing and different laws that, you know, we're making a lot of progress.
I'm hoping that if we can get back on the same page, we're going to see some real progress in criminal justice reform.
And I hope I'm there to write about it.
I would not mind being there to be in the room if I could be of use to anybody.
But that's yeah, we can get there.
We can do a lot to change some of the laws.
Some of the issues you see now being protested and some of the actions by the police, that can be corrected, that can all be fixed, if we can just find a will to do it.
CARLA: As John Grisham reminds us in just about all his novels, sometimes it can take a disaster to teach us the basics.
Here in the Member's Room, the library has a long history of aiding some of our nation's greatest thinkers in searching for understanding about how the world works and how reason might point of path forward through some of our most difficult times.
The library's most important function is to provide our lawmakers the materials they need to understand the subtleties of our democracy because America is still, to this day, a work in progress.
And now, I'm honored to introduce the magnificent Amy Tan, with a few words on American ingenuity and the importance of reason when we grapple with those issues of understanding both ourselves and the outside world.
AMY: My name is Amy Tan and I'm a novelist.
I wrote "The Joy Luck Club", and a number of other novels, as well as memoirs.
I'm here in Sausalito, in my home.
And I'm surrounded by windows and especially by birds, which always makes me supremely happy because I get to go in a place of peace.
I think of ingenuity as being something deeply personal, meaning, it's not that you start off with a formula for creativity.
It is that your life is a series of moments and experiences, which you may not remember.
The part that I find surprising when we talk about reason, it's not a normal kind of reasoning that you get from someone else.
You have to discover it for yourself.
And when you write a story for 300, 500 pages, you will reach a point where it feels like you and you have discovered something about yourself that no one else feels quite like that because you've had this life, nobody else has had.
You've had a life with a Chinese mother who was suicidal or father and a brother who died when you were 14 and 15.
And this reasoning can be contradictory, but it's truth.
And I think that that is what we often look for in the fiction we read.
We want resonance.
We want discovery of who we are.
And I think we have to always remember, there are some qualities in us that others can not take away, as long as we recognize them.
We hang on to them.
We use them.
And they are stronger than anything else that is out there trying to destroy us.
HODA: From one of the most recognized names in American literature to one of its brightest, new voices.
Here's National Book Award finalist, Kali Fajardo-Anstine on her collection of short stories, "Sabrina and Corina".
KALI: Hi, my name is Kali Fajardo-Anstine and I'm the author of "Sabrina and Corina".
I'm here in Denver, Colorado, and I am at my apartment right now.
My writing desk is actually right in front of the computer.
And I'm over in my reading nook.
"Sabrina and Corina" is a collection of 11 short stories that are all focused on the lives of Latinos of indigenous ancestry, who are from Colorado and northern New Mexico.
My book comes out of my background and my family history here in the American West.
And it comes out of issues that I saw growing up.
A lot of "Sabrina and Corina" focuses on violence against women, abandonment, gentrification and a number of other themes that were really close to home and things that I saw in my own neighborhoods and I experienced.
"Sabrina and Corina", all the stories are focused either in Denver, where my family has lived now for five generations or they take place in San Juanita, Colorado, which is a fictional town that I invented in Southern Colorado in order to set stories in the land of my ancestors.
My ancestors migrated north to Denver in the 1930s.
And I grew up with this incredible mixture of cultures and histories and this sort of convergence of the American West, but I never ever saw any stories like ours in American literature.
And this had a huge effect on the way that I viewed myself and my family.
And it had a huge effect on my self-esteem.
I actually dropped out of high school.
I've struggled with depression, most of my life, and a lot of those issues had to do with not feeling good about myself.
So one of the things that I try to do with my writing is to make sure that I'm centering the lives of young women and girls and older women, anybody who comes from my experiences, and then trying to make sure that our lives are visible and we felt seen and that our voices are heard.
To me, ingenuity in the arts means not all of us have been given very privileged lives, where we're able to stop working and just focus on our writing.
We don't have very many spaces within our homes, sometimes.
I wrote a lot of the stories in "Sabrina and Corina" at public libraries, in the conference rooms.
I wrote the story "Sabrina and Corina" in my parents' basement in an old workroom that had been converted to a bedroom.
I wrote on the buses and airplanes and anywhere I could, because I didn't really have my own office or any space to write in.
And I think that's ingenuity.
Being able to create a way to write and to have an artistic path, even when the world is telling you that it's going to be very difficult and it maybe isn't necessarily for you.
I think that it is for all of us.
We can all choose to have an artistic path and we can all choose to become writers, but it does take a lot of ingenuity, if the cards are sort of stacked against you and you have to find a way to push through and write your work.
Women's voices need to be heard just for the fact that we are human and our stories and our lives matter.
DAVID: Hello, I'm David Rubinstein and I'm coming to you from Washington D.C. at the Library of Congress and from another Washington, Seattle, Washington, is Melinda Gates.
Thank you very much, Melinda, for doing this.
MELINDA: So glad we can do it, David.
DAVID: So Melinda, you have written your first book recently.
It's a book about women.
It's a book about empowering women.
And I wanted to talk to you about that.
And what prompted you to write this book?
MELINDA: You know, I've been so incredibly fortunate with the foundation to travel to so places in the world.
And it's the people and particularly the women that I've met in these incredibly difficult circumstances and seeing what they're doing to empower their families and their kids and the lengths they will go.
Their stories ring in my head all the time.
And it's what inspired me to finally write some of their stories down, hopefully, maybe, that their stories would inspire others, too.
DAVID: Now your premise is that if women are empowered, they can change the world.
I know it to be true because I have seen it at the local grassroots level, whether you're in Southeast Asia or whether you're in a remote place in Africa.
I see and I talk and I hear from the leaders, how once the women got empowered, it changed so much in the family and the community and how they viewed things.
The outcomes became better for their children over time.
So we have the data now.
But also in the US, you know, I had to turn the question back on myself and say, how far are we in the United States?
And start to realize, hey, we have still have a ways to go in this country.
And again, we know, again from data, that once women are empowered, they bring forward different issues.
They push for different policies that help everybody.
And so I realized this is something that needs to be done across the world.
DAVID: There's a story in your book about how, when you've met with some young women, they have often said to you and one in particular, here's my baby.
Can you take my baby home with you?
That must be very heart -rendering when that happens.
When did that actually happen first to you?
MELINDA: That first happened to me in India, a number of years ago.
And it's heartbreaking, is what it is.
And you start to realize that, you know, a mother would have to be in incredibly dire circumstances to ask you to take their child home.
And she didn't know me from any stranger.
I mean, she had no idea.
She just knew I was a Western woman there in a pair of khaki pants and a white shirt from the US.
And what I talk about though in the book is we have to open our hearts to those moments of heartbreak and not push them away, but let them in, let our heart break and say, what if that was me?
What if I was that woman?
What length would I go?
And that's when you start to answer the questions about, okay, what is it we should be doing for these women so they can begin to lift themselves up and lift their families and their kids up?
So those moments of heartbreak have been hard to take in, but I think they're also important.
DAVID: So some people say, well, you're helping people in Africa or India, but what about helping people in the United States?
Why are you focused, some people would say, on things outside the United States?
Why don't you focus more in the United States?
How do you respond to those people who say that?
MELINDA: Yeah, so, we do both.
We absolutely try to help in the developing or emerging markets and in the United States.
But what we say to people is, look, we believe as a couple, all lives, all lives, no matter where they're lived, have equal value.
And yet, the world doesn't treat all lives as if they have equal value.
And so if we can help these emerging markets, people really get on that path to self-sustainability, they'll lift themselves up.
They'll lift their communities and their economies up.
We've seen it in South Korea with the appropriate type of aid.
You get the system up and running and then people take it up themselves.
And we think that's worth doing because we believe that somebody's life, whether they're living in Senegal is the same as whether they're living in Seattle.
They just don't have the same opportunity.
DAVID: What do your two daughters think about what you're doing to empower women?
MELINDA: Now, what all three of my children say to me is they're all young adults now.
We are so proud of the work you do in the world.
And each of them says, hey, Mom, if we are lucky enough to find the right partner in life and have a family, we also want to work too, because we believe in giving back to society.
And we see that it's a balance.
And we hope to be able to do that, as well.
DAVID: Melinda, I want to thank you very much for being with us at the National Book Festival and talking about your book.
And I appreciate everything you've done, with the giving pledge, and with all the other things you're doing in your philanthropy.
Thank you very much.
MELINDA: Thank you, David.
Thanks for having me.
HODA: Thank you, David, thank you, Melinda.
We're going to get an even larger glimpse of our world and beyond from the always inspiring space exploration writer, Ann Druyan, in just a moment.
But first, here's another author who knows a thing or two about not giving up.
HABEN: My name is Haben Girma.
I'm a disability rights advocate, lawyer, speaker and author.
My book is called "Haben: The Deaf Blind Woman "Who Conquered Harvard Law".
And as the name tells you, I'm deaf, blind.
I have limited vision and hearing.
And I grew up in a sighted hearing world.
My deaf, blindness is not the thing that made life difficult.
It was ableism that made life difficult.
Ableism is the belief that disabled people are inferior compared to non-disabled people.
I looked back into my life and asked myself, what are the lessons from my life that could help people advance opportunities for disabled people around the United States and around the world.
So I wanted to show people all the different ways ableism hurts us so people can learn to identify it and work to remove it from our society.
In my book, I talk about a situation in college where all I wanted was to eat.
I wanted access to food.
And the food information was only available in a visual format.
As a blind student, I couldn't read the menu.
And I asked the cafeteria, please provide the menu in braille or post it online or email it to me.
I have technology that allows me to access websites and emails.
The cafeteria manager told me we're very busy.
We have over a thousand students.
We don't have time to do special things for students with special needs.
What was I to do?
I talked to friends, advocates, and they reminded me, it's my choice.
It's our choice to accept unfairness or advocate for justice.
I went back to the manager and explained, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities.
And if you don't provide access to the menus, I'm going to take legal action.
The next day, the manager apologized and promised to make the menus accessible.
The next year, a new blind student came to the college and he had immediate access to the menus.
That taught me, when I advocate, it helps everyone who comes after me.
That experience in college inspired me to go to law school.
Most of our society is built for non-disabled people and that forces disabled people to come up with solutions, from everything from cooking in the kitchen to solving international challenges.
One of the things I had to learn to solve is how do you communicate where most people rely on vision and hearing to communicate?
And in 2010, a new piece of technology came out that supported Bluetooth and braille.
I'll hold it up.
So I'm holding up a little device with braille on the bottom.
And I run my fingers over the dots to feel the letters.
When I connect this to an external keyboard, people can type on the keyboard and I can read in braille.
So I found that communication became much, much easier when I tapped into one of my strengths, my sense of touch.
My hearing is terrible.
My vision is terrible.
But my sense of touch is excellent.
So I tapped into that and way more opportunities came up for me.
Disabled people do this all the time.
When you increase disability on your team or at your schools, more innovations come in, more solutions to problems.
So it benefits all of us to increase hiring and diversity in our teams.
Harvard said they'd never had a deaf blind student before.
I told them, I've never been to Harvard Law School before.
We didn't know what all the solutions would be, but we engaged in an interactive process to find the solutions and make it work.
Now, I work as an advocate for disabled people.
I know there's injustice and I know there's a way to end injustice.
All of us have the choice to accept unfairness, to tolerate it or advocate for justice.
ANNIE: Hello, I'm Annie Druyan.
And I'm speaking to you from my home in Ithaca, New York.
And I'm the author of "Cosmos: Possible Worlds".
The message at the heart of "Cosmos" is to make the case for science.
Not that science hasn't known sin, of course it has because, it's practiced by human beings and we are deeply flawed.
But the dangers that we currently face can only, only be dealt with, with scientific knowledge and a scientific approach.
So the third Cosmos, "Possible Worlds", which is the book I've written, but also the television series that I had the pleasure of producing, writing, and directing with my collaborator, Brannon Braga, is my searching for a realistic, evidence-based sense of how we can be hopeful about the future.
Who of us, looking at our children and our grandchildren cannot feel a certain pain of remorse and concern about whether or not we are handing them a planet that will be as habitable for them, as it has been for us and our ancestors?
I knew that there was no need to tell the audience how serious the challenges we face are.
But instead, to find hope, to find reason for hope that would be rational and truthful.
And I didn't come to my love of science until I was an adult, until I found those pre-Socratic philosophers and began to feel included.
And then when I met Carl Sagan, as Carl used to say, when he was asked, why he didn't spend all this time in the laboratory, why did he go on these television shows?
And so many other things that he did to talk about science, he would say, when you're in love, you want to tell the world.
I felt, really, that's what I wanted to do was to share this knowledge, which was no longer impenetrable to me, which was no longer boring, which was no longer something that I felt alienated from.
But instead, I felt an almost evangelical desire to tell these stories of these great scientists, these heroic figures, people who chose death rather than telling a lie about science.
And I took a great deal of courage from the stories that maybe two dozen people that you'll meet in the pages of the book and in the episodes of the show, who against all odds, stood up in defense of reality, in defense of the evidence, in defense of the methodology of science.
We have these enormous capabilities.
And yet, here we are sleepwalking, as if in a stupor, as if in a dream, unable to awaken and to create the future that we need to create by making the changes in the way we live and the way we treat each other.
If we are resolute and keep our eye on that most precious of all prizes then the wonders that await us, in this Cosmos, past and ancient, are beyond our wildest imagination.
♪ DAN: America as a country has a very long, powerful tradition of creativity and ingenuity.
One of our greatest exports to the world, you know, is music, books, art, film.
You know, we are a creative country.
LELAND: This ingenuity and creativity and the written word and the poetry and it's inspiring you to like, do things bigger than your present self.
CHELSEA: It's important that we celebrate, amplify examples of American ingenuity to not only recognize people's achievements and accomplishments for what they are, but also, to really inspire our young people today, to imagine themselves into kind of their own expressions of ingenuity.
♪ HODA: If memory reminds us how we got here, and reason helps us understand the situations we find ourselves in right now, imagination is that wonderful gift that points us to a world we didn't even know existed.
When it comes to literature and the authors you're about to hear from, imagination can also be a tool for creatively addressing our very real world problems.
We'll go from dystopian road trips to gods, myths and "Superhuman Smashing the Klan" before our final segment is done.
But first, here's a biographer who definitely has his finger on the pulse of some of history's most ingenious and imaginative minds.
WALTER: Hello, I'm Walter Isaacson.
And it's an honor to be celebrating the National Book Festival's theme of ingenuity.
As a biographer, I've always been fascinated by the paragons of ingenuity from Leonardo de Vinci to Benjamin Franklin to Albert Einstein to Steve jobs.
And I found there's a special connection between ingenuity and that category of thinking that Thomas Jefferson labeled, imagination.
I've met and written about a lot of smart people in my life.
And one thing I've learned is that smart people are a dime a dozen.
They don't usually amount to much.
What matters is imagination, that ability to, as Steve jobs said, think different.
As Einstein wrote, imagination is more important than knowledge for knowledge is limited whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress.
There are many keys to unlocking imagination.
One that's common to all the people I've written about is curiosity, pure curiosity.
The other key to unlocking imagination is the ability to connect the arts and the sciences.
Whenever Steve Jobs launched a new product, he ended his slide presentation with a sign showing the intersection of two streets, the liberal arts and technology street.
And when he launched the iPhone, he explained, we believe that it's technology married with the humanities that yields the result that makes our hearts sing.
That's the glory of the National Book Festival.
It celebrates curiosity.
It allows us to embrace the arts and the sciences and thus, it stimulates our imagination and leads to ingenuity.
SALMAN: Hello, I'm Salman Rushdie.
And I'm the author most recently of "Quichotte".
I think what novels do in times of upheaval and turmoil, what literature has always done is to give readers new ways of framing the world, to respond to the times by saying to readers, okay, let's look at it this way.
Instead of the way you're used to looking at things, let's look at things another way.
And if you do that right, then that can kind of open doors in people's heads and enable them, one hopes, to begin to think about things in different ways.
I've always believed that kind of high imagination, you know, to take the real world and to magnify it or lampoon it or make it surreal is a way of attracting a lot of readers.
I've always really liked the idea.
The Russian critic, Martin, talks about the carnivalesque.
And I've always liked the idea of the novel as a kind of carnival, you know, in which you have all kinds of acts competing for your attention.
"Quichotte", which is the novel I'm here to talk about, as the title suggests, it's a novel in part, inspired by a very great novel, by Don Quixote of Miguel de Cervantes.
And I guess, it has a version of that story, a version of a silly old fool and his sidekick making their way across America on an absurd quest for love.
So I had this idea of a novel that would somehow range widely across the country and try and do two things.
One was to try and somehow take the measure of America at this particular moment.
And the other aspect of that is to do something which sort of teaches you not to do, which is to write right up against the present moment, to try and write a book as it were about the day before yesterday.
And, you know, that's a dangerous thing 'cause if you do that wrong, then very quickly, your novel begins to read like yesterday's papers.
But if you do it right, then with any luck, you can capture that moment.
And that's what I hoped for.
And so my version of Don Quixote, my "Quichotte", is, well, the easiest way to describe him, is he's a traveling salesman.
He travels in pharmaceuticals and in chapter one, gets fired.
And then decides because he's obsessed by garbage television, he's obsessed by reality TV.
And he decides he's fallen in love with a star of the medium, a woman who's never met, but you know, decides that she must be his and he's going to go on this journey across America to win her hand, to prove himself by deeds as well as words to win her hand.
And he's childless, but desperately wants to have a child.
And so, also in chapter one, he conjures up a child out of his imagination, out of his deep need for a child and who then becomes obsessed with the business of being real.
And so, since one of the big themes of the novel is is reality about the kind of breakdown in reality in our time, the kind of contested nature of reality, we writers have to recognize that we can't simply assume that between ourselves and our readers, there will be an easy agreement about the nature of the real.
So that contested fragmented, fractured nature of the real has to become a part of how we show the world, you know.
And maybe by showing the world as that, it allows readers to, you know, to think about that and to think about what kind of world in the end they want to make out of this presently fractured world.
ROBERT: Hello, I'm Robert Pinsky.
I was the ninth consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress Poet Laureate.
And I'm here in my house in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The theme of ingenuity, the other "I" word, improvisation, is very important to me.
When I was a very poor student in junior high school and high school, music sort of kept me going, kept me alive.
My poem, "Instrument", I try my best to include the beauty and the violence of human ingenuity from the beginning in our earliest myths.
And as the old saying goes, if you kiss the cat, you kiss the fleas.
The instrument of art, of science, they're beautiful.
And the same ingenuity has given us means of torture and mass destruction.
"Instrument" It was a little newborn god that made the first instrument: Sweet vibration of mind, mind, mind enclosed in its orbit.
He scooped out a turtle's shell and strung it with a rabbit's guts.
O what a stroke, to invent music from an empty case, strung with bloody filaments.
The wiry rabbitflesh plucked and strummed, pulled taught across the gutted music from an empty shell and the insides of a rabbit.
Sweet instrument of mind.
Mind, mind: Mind, itself, a capable vibration thrumming from here to there in the cloven brain flesh contained in its helmet of bone.
Like an electronic boxful of channels and filaments bundled inside a case, a little musical robot dreamed up by the mind, embedded in the brain with its blood-warm channels and its humming network of neurons, engendering the newborn baby god.
As clever and as violent as his own instrument of sweet, all -consuming imagination, held by its own vibration.
Mind, mind, Mind pulled taught in its bony shell, dreaming up Heaven and Hell.
HODA: And now, here are two novelists who have used the fantasy genre as a lens to look at the challenges in our own world, all while developing a very loyal fan base.
LEIGH: Hi, I'm Leigh Bardugo.
I am the author of many books in the Grecia verse, including "Shadow of Bone" and "Six of Crows".
And I'm also the author of a book called, "Ninth House", which is my first fantasy novel for adults.
I am speaking to you from my living room in Los Angeles.
I think there's no question that both fantasy and science fiction usually operate in terms of metaphor.
And they take us to places of extremes and extreme situations that then provide us a certain level of remove and comfort to deal with things that we are experiencing potentially in our real lives.
Magic is really just another kind of power.
And I don't mean a magical power.
I mean, it is just another kind of power that operates in the world.
So some people exercise the power of privilege.
Some people have the power that comes with money or status and in the world of "Ninth House", magic functions in exactly the same way.
It's a resource.
It's a tool that some people are trained to use and others are not.
And I think that for me, you know, the secret societies at Yale are very real and the kind of power that some of the people within those institutions yield is very real.
So I wanted to tell a story about somebody who was a true outsider and who had been locked out of the language of privilege and the language of the elite, but who brought her own skills to bear from her past, into this world where she really is learning to navigate what it means to have power and who gets to wield it and what choices you get to make when you're somebody who has an extraordinary ability and who has been given this opportunity, but who really only has this one chance.
I know that for me, fantasy and science fiction and really all fiction, and some non-fiction served as a kind of escape and a kind of refuge from real life.
And the lessons I took from fantasy were not ones of wanting to hide away in a place where magic was real.
The worlds that fantasy give us are worlds with dire stakes, where justice is on the line, and the future is on the line.
And those stakes can feel very real and frequently are very real for young people.
And the books that I read when I was young gave me worlds where being smart and clever and resourceful and courageous and resilient were so much more important than things I was being taught were important by culture.
So culture was telling me be pretty, be cute, be cheerful.
And the fiction, I was lucky enough to discover, was telling me, be smart, be brave, be tough, keep going.
And I hope that when people read my books, they find what they need in them, whether that is refuge or inspiration to go out there and fight whatever war needs fighting.
TOMI: Hi, my name is Tomi Adeyemi.
And I am the author of "Children of Blood and Bone" and "Children of Virtue and Vengeance".
I'm coming to you live from San Diego, California.
And it follows the girl fighting to bring magic back to her people.
And so it's just epic West African adventure with West African mythology.
The Orisha, the West African tradition, it is something that is, it started with my culture because I'm Nigerian-American.
My parents are Eurobond.
And so, even though this has been a part of my culture, I didn't learn about it until I got a fellowship to Brazil after college.
But then I came across the Orisha for the first time.
And they were these postcards.
And I didn't know what they were.
There was no like headings.
So, I didn't know what I was looking at, but I was just seeing magical, sacred depictions of what felt like Black deities.
And it was the first time in my life, like, I love magic.
I love imagery.
I love mythology.
So I was so intimately familiar with mythologies and religions from all over the world but I had never seen my own.
So it felt like I went to Brazil to discover what was in my backyard the entire time.
And even though it's an epic West African fantasy, its themes, really closely mirror issues we're going through today, especially the first book.
The first book was written as a fantasy, but also an allegory to the modern Black experience.
Humans are complex, not just the issues we go through, but what we're feeling, what they feel like.
And so, I really wrote these so that it'd be easier to understand the pain people are going through, that's not always easy to verbalize.
For 10 years, every story I wrote, the characters, the main character was white or biracial.
And it was really tragic for me when I realized what I was doing, because everything I wrote was what I wanted.
So if I was writing about a white girl who could shoot lightning out of her hands, it was because I wanted to shoot lightning out of my hands.
And I also want it to be white and subconsciously trying to internalize that I can not be a part of my own imagination, because if I didn't see people who looked like me in all the anime shows, in all the movies and all the books and all the magazines and all the, you know.
We internalize erasure.
Oh, I must not belong there.
So that's what ingenuity is to me.
That's the only thing we can count on in life is that there will be problems, that there will be pain.
So how do we solve it?
How do you solve the micro pain in your life?
How do you solve the micro pain in a friend or family member's life?
How do you solve the macro pain on a societal level?
So I feel like stories give us this really beautiful roller coaster ride.
It's like, you get to ride through it.
And then at the end, you have to step off into the real world again, but you do it with a new awareness.
You do it with new learning, new truths, you do it with ideally wanting to, to act differently in this world to make that really harsh truth a little bit better.
CARLA: One of the things I love about coming to work at the Library of Congress is the daily inspiration I get from some of the fine art that populates the spaces in all of our buildings, especially here in our main reading room.
I love to visit because I can look up and see some of the greatest artists in the history of the world, like Michelangelo, William Shakespeare, and Ludwig Van Beethoven, who remind us that sometimes, it's that wonderfully untethered imagination we find in the fine arts that can help us picture a brighter future.
Now I'm so pleased to introduce our 21st United States Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, who spent a good portion of his tenure, traveling the country to spark the imaginations of some of our youngest minds.
JUAN: I'm Juan Felipe Herrera, former Poet Laureate of the United States.
And for that, I thank all of you.
You have to be free, number one.
Your imagination has to be free and inclusive.
Free means inclusive.
Free doesn't mean narrow, just my idea.
My little limited idea.
That's not free.
Free is including as many imaginations as possible.
Let me read you a poem, by the way, if I can.
It's called "Color Tense".
I had a color.
There is no color.
I was bronze.
We do not have bronze.
I was golden sienna, ochre.
There are no siennas or golden siennas or orchres here.
We had colors.
We have no colors.
We had faces with colors.
There are no faces with colors.
We stood up.
All the colors.
There is no standing.
The color dances are illegal.
Haven't you heard?
We had colors on our hands and scars.
I told you, no colors.
No colors or faces.
No illegal scars.
We held up an ancient disk of the loss inscriptions and stories of our colors, our bronze.
We are burning that vessel, those signs, those words, those long lines.
There are no colors now.
We dreamed our colors.
It is not useful to dream.
We dreamed about our colors.
It is not useful.
There are no colors now.
We brought in a new time.
This is a new time.
We wanted our mothers to bend their ears, to their lost stories, the burned stories, the fettered stories, the ones that rose up from the ancient disc.
This is a new time.
This eye is a new eye.
This voice is the new voice.
This chair with the wingspan up right, is the new chair.
The disc was soaked in blood.
It is a new time.
It was what we called for.
You have the wrong time.
It was our song.
Your blood is wrong.
It is too small.
It is filled with holes.
Your songs are illegal.
They're not useful.
Your time is filled with holes.
Your time, your blood is too small.
I'm walking away.
That is permissible.
I'm leaving you here.
That is practical.
I do not want the disk.
What did you say?
The color is everywhere.
I do not see it.
Golden sienna spins right through you.
Your time is too small.
My time is now.
The time is now.
HODA: While we're on the subject of imagination, it's important to remember that a book doesn't always have to be a 300 page novel.
Our final group of authors show us that sometimes, the best solution is to think outside the box and appeal to the kid in everyone.
GENE: Hi, my name is Gene Luen Yang.
I am a cartoonist.
I write and draw comic books and graphic novels.
I am in San Jose, California.
I am in my daughter's bedroom as I speak with you, which is like a makeshift studio.
We've turned into a makeshift studio since the lockdown began.
This is some advice that I was given about creativity a long time ago, creativity and ingenuity.
And I tried to follow it ever since.
Creativity is almost never out of nothing.
Often, our best examples of creativity live in the between spaces between two things that people in general, don't expect to go together.
I think comics in a lot of ways is kind of like that, right?
Comics sits in between these two large, two older traditions.
It sits in between a tradition of visual art and a tradition of literature.
And it kind of creates something new in that in between space.
And this past year, during 2020, I had two different books come out.
The very first one is "Dragon Hoops".
This is my very first non-fiction graphic novel.
Up until this point, I'd always made up my stories.
This tells the real life story of a high school basketball team that I follow for the 2014, 2015 season.
I used to be a teacher at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, California.
And that school has a nationally renowned basketball program but because I was a computer science teacher, I really had nothing to do with that program.
Well, during the 2014, 2015 season, I got to know coach Lou Richie.
He is a PE teacher at that school.
And he's also the head of the varsity men's team.
Lou and I had been on the same campus for over a decade, but we weren't really friends.
I'd never really talked to him until the beginning of that season.
When I was a kid, I was not a basketball player or a basketball fan.
I don't know if you could tell from looking at me on the screen, but I am not an athlete in any way.
When I was a kid, the basketball court was this arena of humiliation for me.
Every time I stepped on, I'd get hurt.
But following that team of coaches and players for a season really changed my perspective.
I realized that basketball is not just a game.
It is not just a sport.
It actually has all these ties to real life.
Basketball is about courage.
It's about respect.
It's about perseverance.
"Dragon Hoops", it follows a team with players of every different kind of background, socioeconomic backgrounds.
There's diversity in socioeconomic backgrounds and also in ethnicity.
But they were close knit.
Like these players, they are each other's best friends.
That unified goal was incredibly important in building the community.
And then "Superman Smashes the Klan".
It is about Metropolis, this community of Metropolis wrestling with issues of diversity.
I wanted to tackle this idea head on about whether or not we can be a community with people who are different from us.
And this is actually a retelling of one of the most famous stories in the Superman mythos.
Way back in 1946, the 16 part, "Clan of the Fiery Cross" storyline airs on the Superman radio show.
There were calls for boycotts of the radio show sponsors because back then, the Ku Klux Klan, the real life hooded bigots, were seeing not as a terrorist organization, but as a community organization in some areas of America.
They even got death threats from the New Jersey Klan, but they also fundamentally changed America with this storyline.
Supposedly, after Superman took on the klan in his radio show, nobody wanted to join.
The real life Klan saw this tremendous drop in membership.
Nobody wanted to be a part of a group that was against Superman.
Here was a concrete example of how a story about a man in a red cape really affected our real world.
The story about this man in a red cape actually dealt a tremendous PR blow to hate in America.
I think it is a prime example of how the stories that we tell, even stories about fictional characters, can have real world effects.
So American ingenuity is the theme of the conference.
And I think that really does tie very well with comic books and graphic novels.
I think the comics really express something deeply American.
You know, they kind of bridge what we think of as high art and low art.
At their best, they kind of, they make those distinctions disappear and they allow the creators and the readers to wrestle with issues in this almost boundless way, in a way where they're thinking doesn't necessarily have to fit in boxes.
CARLA: We are so pleased to be joined by a person who is in children's literature and in the world of ideas and imagination and ingenuity, Mr. Mo Willems.
And we are just excited to be in the room where it happens.
Mo, is this where it happens?
Mo: (laughing) Well, this is where the production happens.
This is where the drawings happen.
This is where I create the books.
This is the drawing table, that doubles, not only as a place for me to draw, but a place to trace.
It's also a light box, right?
So this is where the books are made, it's not were the books are grown.
The books are grown in my, I guess my idea gardens.
And those are back here.
This is an idea garden.
CARLA: It's a what?
MO: Looks like a notebook.
Mo: So you see that stack there, back there.
That's about three years worth of them.
And they might be ideas for books or stories or drawings, but sometimes, they're just visual thoughts.
CARLA: Now what inspires you though?
I mean, you're in this space.
Do you have certain things that are there or?
Mo: What this studio does for me is, it allows me to be alone in a controlled space that I can go crazy, that I can listen to all the voices in my head.
So everything is very regimented in this space so that all I have to do is let my imagination play, go and move and do.
Here's the thing for me, this is the real inspiration.
I believe that any work of literature or theater or arts has three acts.
And the first act is the binding.
You decide to pull the book out of the shelf and you are going to open that book.
That's your decision, right?
The second act is the work in the book.
That's what I do.
And the third act is what it sparks.
The third act is what you do after you've read it, after you've heard it.
Do you start creating like that.
Does that inspire you to do something else?
So I don't have control over the first act.
A teacher might have control over that.
You might have control over that.
I control the second act.
And you control the most important thing, the third act and what that sparks in you.
So all I'm doing here is trying to build a bright enough spark so that when I'm not with you, you get to do something special.
CARLA: And young people, especially kids, are very imaginative.
Is there something in what they experience that adults lose?
Mo: I think that we often frame imagination in terms of imagination can take you anywhere you want to go.
Well, that's advertising.
Imagination takes you someplace you didn't know existed.
That's what's magical.
I don't sit down and say, well, you know, I'm going to come up with an idea about an elephant and a pig.
I sit down in my chair, I'm going to ask some questions and I'm going to draw and I'm going to get frustrated, And I'm gonna fold up paper and throw it away.
And I'm going to keep going.
And then I'll end up someplace, I never could have imagined.
I also believe that children are ambassadors to creativity.
Their imagination is not goal-oriented.
They discover, they're just doing it.
They don't care where it ends.
And so, I don't like to bring the idea of like, you can, through your imagination, get from A to B. I think you can, with your imagination, get from A to strawberry pizza.
CARLA: Is there a thrill of that creation when you realize that this is something really magical?
Mo: When I make a book, I'm only making 49% of it.
And the magic is the 51% that the reader puts into it.
And not having control over that, is pretty exciting.
So I like to think of my career as an an instigator.
And that the only successes that I have are not in the books, but in what they spark in others.
ANN: Hey, everybody, I am Ann Patchett and I am in my breakfast room.
I know it looks like I'm in front of the Chinese pagoda, but I'm in my breakfast room at home, staying safe in Nashville, Tennessee.
And I am here with my friend, Kate DiCamillo.
Kate, where are you?
KATE: I am in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
And I'm in my dining room, which it's funny that I even have the dining room because, I can't cook.
And I'm lousy at entertaining, but that's where I am 'cause the light is good.
ANN: So the thing that I love about your career is that you have all these different stratas.
You've got the Mercy Watsons, you've got picture books, you've got the Deckerwood Drives, you've got your novels and that you work on them in this circular way, but in every category, every time you do something new, I can really feel you pulling yourself up and tackling something that's a little harder and new.
You are not resting in any category of your life.
You want to talk about that?
KATE: And yeah, and nor are you, which goes to this whole idea of, you know, ingenuity and challenging yourself and imagination.
And you know, you and I talk about this all the time, how we feel so lucky to get to do this, right?
And we know that this is, you've known since you were a child, that this is what you wanted to do.
And I want to talk about how in these, so we've been, you know, life has changed so profoundly, i.e., we're doing this, as opposed to how I used to live my life, which was to go out and talk to kids at signings, but also in school visits.
And I always felt like if there was one message that a kid could walk away from me coming into their school and talking to them about writing, it was this, that here I am, a small, messy person.
And I get to do what I think is the most magical thing in the world, which is tell stories.
So if they look at me standing up there, messy, wildly imperfect, and think she's nothing special, but yet she gets to do this because, and I tell them this, because I talk so much about persistence because she refused to give up.
And I think that also, that whole notion of wanting something and refusing to give up is also ingenuity, right?
ANN: Yeah and you know, it's interesting, you talk about a message to a kid on a school visit.
And I feel like my message is no one's watching.
There is no danger and no one watching and in a way that can be the very scariest thing.
But what I learned over the years of being a waitress and doing things successfully, doing things not so successfully, is that it really, really doesn't matter.
We're telling stories.
And therefore, you have this tremendous freedom in that.
If it really doesn't matter, and nobody is watching, you should do your absolute best, most creative, most experimental work and tap into part of yourself that's going to push yourself farther and farther because judgment really isn't the problem.
KATE: I remember hearing Beverly Cleary interviewed, she's still alive, but this is when she was like 98.
Now, she's like 102.
And somebody said, well, how do you get into the mind of a fourth grader?
And she said, that fourth grader is right here.
And that's the way it is for me.
And even though you're primarily adult, that child in you was right front and center, but I've found that for a lot of people, they don't, they genuinely don't have the access to that 10-year-old.
And for whatever reason, it is just like Beverly Cleary said, it is right here for me.
And I feel from knowing you well, that it's right there for you, as well.
But I think a lot of people's just consciously or subconsciously, they forget about that child.
ANN: One thing that I have really found during this time of pandemic and being home and locked down and quiet, I feel much closer to that part of myself because I feel like my professional self has really fallen away.
You know, the me that's always getting on a plane and standing on a stage and giving a talk and signing books and answering questions.
And it's like, that's all gone now.
I'm just home.
And I'm myself.
And all the scaffolding of self-protection has really come off.
And I feel much, much closer to myself as a child now than I ever have.
And it's all about settling yourself.
In a way, it's a kind of meditation, that you can, once again, sit quietly in this hard, sad time.
You can sit quietly with your own thoughts and not look away.
And when you can do that, you find your strength and your peace, and that's been a great gift for me.
KATE: I think specifically about kids, as I do it now in that, I want them to know that to sit down and to connect with themselves this way is something that they they can do and that we need their stories.
And so if I am encouraging children and adults, too, to do that, to show up a little bit each day, to connect with that deeper part of yourself and of humanity, through writing a story or writing an essay, if I can encourage people to do that, then I'm duty bound to do it myself.
So I feel like, how am I doing anything for the world by doing that?
I'm not, but yet hopefully, somebody can feel the energy of me sitting down and think I will sit down, too.
And that if we all tell our stories, and if we all listen to each other's stories, we can find a way through this together.
HODA: Thank you Ann, thank you Kate.
Today, our world is facing a combination of challenges that have rarely, if ever, happened at the same time, but you know what?
As we've seen in the past two hours, sometimes history, logic and our capacity to imagine can be our greatest teachers.
Just think about the voices that came out of those crises of the past, out of the hardship of things gone wrong.
Survival breeds creativity and innovation in our country.
It always has.
And today, some of our most well known names in the literature, science and the arts, as well as plenty of exciting new voices have given us their insights on how we can hold on to hope amidst so much turmoil.
And hopefully, after this program, you will find the time to read or listen to a good book or two, find some inspiration and renew the age old American tradition of tackling our greatest challenges.
So on behalf of Dr. Hayden and the Library of Congress, thank you so much for joining us for the 20th National Book Festival.
And we hope to see you again.
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