- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2003

First lady Laura Bush yesterday applauded the achievements of authors, poets and storytellers during the opening ceremony of the third annual National Book Festival at the White House.

“Literacy is the key to a rich and fulfilling life,” Mrs. Bush said.

An avid reader and former librarian, the first lady praised the ability of writers to whisk readers off to faraway places, stir their emotions and open their minds.

“Books and reading bring out the best in all of us,” Mrs. Bush told guests in the East Room shortly before she joined thousands of bibliophiles who descended on the Mall to listen to prize-winning authors and poets discuss their work.

“We have to get the word out that parents [must] read to their children,” Mrs. Bush said in a brief interview with The Washington Times after the ceremony. “Turn off the television, because that shows children that they are important. It’s a very small investment for a better vocabulary, better reading skills and self-esteem.”

Mrs. Bush said she hopes the National Book Festival will inspire more readers, especially since they can meet favorite authors and make a personal connection. The event is sponsored by the Library of Congress.

“I have so many favorite authors, many of whom are here today,” she said, though she singled out Pat Conroy, Wally Lamb, and Stan and Jan Berenstain, who created the Berenstain Bears series of children’s book — books she read to her daughters when they were little girls.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said yesterday’s event drew 60,000 to the Mall, a turnout he called a tribute to Mrs. Bush.

“She has raised enthusiasm [about reading]. She is not only an advocate, but an example. … Reading is fun, and Mrs. Bush projects this,” Mr. Billington said.

The fun didn’t stop for the first lady even after the authors left the White House for the Mall and the eager readers of their books.

She joined the crowds, settling in to listen to James McBride talk about his most recent book, “Miracle at St. Anna,” a historical novel set in Italy during World War II. The author fielded questions from the audience and accepted numerous compliments about his 1996 book, “The Color of Water.”

Daphne Key would not be moved from the “Fiction & Imagination” pavilion while Mr. McBride, a former journalist and musician, discussed his work, his method, his favorite pencil and his mom.

“I teach at Woodson High School in Fairfax and his book [“The Color of Water”] is required summer reading,” said Ms. Key , who teaches 12th-grade English. “The students love his work. I love his work and I liked what he said about speaking to the commonalities of all people.”

Ms. Key said she has attended all three of the annual festivals.

“We wouldn’t miss this. It’s the most wonderful thing anyone has done in a long time. The fact that Mrs. Bush promotes literacy is great,” she said.

Ms. Key planned to take bookmarks back to all of her students who couldn’t attend.

Michael Stewart and his daughter, Hilary, 12, enjoyed the partly sunny day as they walked from pavilion to pavilion where 80 authors, poets and storytellers recounted their tales. By 12:15 p.m., the two were listening to Haitian-born Edwidge Danticat as she read excerpts from “Behind the Mountain,” which was published last year.

“I could just sit and listen to her,” Mr. Stewart said of the writer’s melodious voice and intonations.

Hilary, a student at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, reads at a freshman college level.

“I can’t wait to read the book,” she said. “I haven’t read her other books, but my dad said they are excellent.

“This is a wonderful event,” Hilary said of the festival. “It’s like, you could be walking by and see Mrs. Bush.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide