- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 30, 2006

First lady Laura Bush yesterday commended the achievements of authors, poets and storytellers during the opening ceremony of the sixth annual National Book Festival.

“I thank you for the many solitary hours you spend working to enlighten and inform and inspire and entertain all the rest of us, your readers,” Mrs. Bush said to the dozens of authors filling the White House East Room after an honorary breakfast.

Thousands of book lovers agreed, as they flocked to the Mall yesterday to meet and talk with some of the literary world’s most acclaimed authors, illustrators, poets and storytellers.

Organizers had expected about 100,000 people to attend the daylong event, which stretched from Seventh to 14th streets Northwest and featured more than 70 award-winning writers.

The festival — sponsored by the Library of Congress and hosted by Mrs. Bush, an avid reader and former librarian — was created to promote literacy and a love of books.

The festival is modeled after the Texas Book Festival, founded by Mrs. Bush in 1995. She will be an honorary chairman of the festival this month.

“A previous occupant of this house, Thomas Jefferson, once said, ‘I cannot live without books,’” Mrs. Bush said to the authors yesterday. “He would have been so encouraged to see the thousands of book lovers who are going to show up on the Mall to meet each and every one of you.”

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington lauded the writers as well as Mrs. Bush.

“It’s just inspiring what we do here,” Mr. Billington said. “And you can’t say enough about [the efforts] of the first lady and the work’s she done.”

Mrs. Bush was introduced by Kevin Clash, the famed puppeteer behind Sesame Street’s “Elmo,” who was there to promote his book, “My Life as a Furry Red Monster.”

Mr. Clash was among the horde of authors, illustrators and poets hawking published works of all kinds and genres, including children’s books, fiction, fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, history and biographies.

“Book festivals … are the payoff for all the solitary hours spent at the keyboard,” said Kathy Reichs, the world-renowned forensic anthropologist from North Carolina whose novels are the basis for Fox’s hit TV show “Bones.”

“And the National Book Festival is the granddaddy of them all,” she said.

Several basketball stars, including the Washington Wizards’ Brendan Haywood and the Detroit Shock’s Ruth Riley, participated in the festival as part of the NBA and WNBA’s “Read to Achieve” educational-outreach initiative.

“It’s great to see kids get excited about reading,” Mr. Haywood said.

Since the first festival in 2001, the event has grown steadily, attracting tens of thousands of people annually. Last year’s turnout exceeded 100,000, organizers said.

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