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2023 Library of Congress National Book Festival

By Becky Vannison Baldwin and Lauren Baldwin | August 16, 2023 | 8:19 pm ET

Photo Credit: Becky Vannison Baldwin and Lauren Baldwin

The atmosphere was electric at the Library of Congress National Book Festival, held on August 12, 2023, in Washington, DC. From big crowds in halls to packed rooms for the authors. There were so many authors to see, so many stories to hear and experiences to be had.

Bestselling authors, novelists, historians, poets, and children's writers were featured; including R. K. Russell, Meg, Medina, Joy Harjo, R. J. Palacio, and Elliot Page.

With so many things to see we decided to try and attend various genres by various authors which made the experience not only fun but interesting. From children's books, young adults, poetry and nonfiction, and biographies and memoirs. Each speaker told a different story but the message throughout was ultimately the same - that our stories bring us together.

Our first stop was the Discovery Stage to hear from Gary D. Schmidt, author of The Labors of Hercules Beal. He began sharing his primary school experience from first grade to fourth grade. He told about his first-grade teacher identifying students based on their levels of intelligence by categorizing the students into three vegetable groups. Smart equals corn, average equals green beans and stupid equals pumpkins.

Gary was categorized as a pumpkin. He went on to share that because of this rating system, he was unable to read when entered the fourth grade. Ultimately while in fourth grade another teacher saw his potential and placed him in her classroom with green beans where he was able to excel. This experience is what inspired him to write the book, The Labors of Hercules Beal based on the mythical Hercules and his 12 labors to overcome grief. But instead of the setting being ancient Greece, our Hercules is battling seventh grade.

From there we made our way to the Understanding Stage where we heard from Shane McCrae and Nicole Sealey on new ways of confronting systemic racism. Here we heard the authors discussing to what extent they could bear witness to others enduring racism through poetry. Shanes spoke of his personal struggles as a biracial child growing up with racist grandparents. Nicole Sealey spoke baring witness retroactively by giving a voice to the unrest in Ferguson during the murder of Michael Brown in 2019. They each spoke of confronting their different experiences with racism but both acknowledged the healing effect of poetry.

We found Shane's story interesting due to him being kidnapped by his racist white grandparents who he identified as wanting to erase his blackness. Recognizing the paradox that they were racist but willing to raise a black child.

Our third stop was the Curiosity Stage where we heard from Trang Thanh Tran author of She is a Haunting. Tran discussed racism and colonialism from the Vietnamese perspective and how they can haunt our past, present, and future in more ways than one. The story centered around Jade a Vietnamese-American and her immigrant parents. What we get is a haunting tale of self-reflection, racism, and unfinished business in this ghost story. Each parent's experience of escaping a war-torn Vietnam and how each parent's experience shaped who they became as adults as well as their relationship with the children and their upbringing. This one piqued our interest and we look forward to more from this debut author.

Finally, we found ourselves at the Creativity Stage where we heard from Elliott Page on his new memoir Page Boy. Elliott Page formerly known as the actress Ellen Page (star of 2007 movie, Juno). Recently Elliott Page came out to the world as transgender after a lifetime and successful career identifying as female. He shared the notable experiences he had while writing his memoir. He shared his struggles and triumphs both in his personal and professional life. He shared writing his memoir was exhilarating and also frightening.

He said to the audience that what kept him encouraged throughout his journey was "the shame is not yours".

The eclectic and diverse event and authors made for a truly enjoyable and enlightening experience. We saw groups of school-age children with guides to seniors and educators all there to enjoy the event and share their love of books, like us, which made us feel right at home. This event is for any and everyone - even if you don't like reading. There is truly an experience for everyone to enjoy and learn something new from storytellers. This was only our second year attending the Library of Congress National Book Festival and our first attending on behalf of Vision & Purpose LifeStyle Magazine and Media™. We hope to run into you next year at the 2024 National Book Festival.

Mark your calendars for next year’s National Book Festival, scheduled for August 24, 2024.


About Becky Vannison Baldwin and Lauren Baldwin

Becky Vannison Baldwin and Lauren Baldwin are a mother/daughter duo and best-selling authors, who love everything books! They are both contributing writers for Vision & Purpose LifeStyle Magazine and Media. They also provide press coverage for author and book events. Becky and Lauren are the hosts of Book Chat With the Baldwins, a weekly Facebook Live Stream, where the pair provides an overview of books they are reading.


Vision & Purpose LifeStyle Magazine and Media is a bi-monthly print and digital publication.

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