News & Politics

National Book Festival Will Move From Mall to Washington Convention Center

New National Park Service rules concerning use of the Mall forced the Library of Congress to look for a new venue.

The National Park Service doesn't want as much of this stuff on top of the Mall's new irrigation system. Photograph by Flickr user Martin Kalfatovic.

This year’s National Book Festival will move the annual literary celebration from the Mall to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the Library of Congress says. Additionally, this year’s edition, scheduled for August 30, will shorten the festival from two days to one, though organizers say there will still be just as much content.

The event is moving indoors because of new regulations enacted last year by the National Park Service concerning events staged on the Mall. After a years-long renovation process in which NPS replanted the Mall’s grass and replaced its irrigation systems, there is far less space available for large-scale events that include the building of tents, stages, and other structures.

“We spent several months to see if there was a feasible way,” Library of Congress spokeswoman Jennifer Gavin says. But unfortunately for book-lovers looking forward to queuing up on the lawn to meet their favorite author, there was no way to accommodate the new rules without incurring additional, “not unsubstantial” costs, says Gavin.

NPS guidelines divide the Mall into 50 panels, which are classified as either “turf areas” (covered in grass) or “non-turf areas” (trees, gravel, concrete, and everything else). Tents and stages are still allowed on the grassy plots, but event planners must also account for the amount of time it takes the turf to recover from having a mass of people and equipment trample all over it. An event as large as the National Book Festival, which drew more than 200,000 people last year, requires a month for the grass to recover.

In moving to the Washington Convention Center, though, Gavin says the festival can offer more programming in a single day than it did outside over a full weekend. The press release announcing the venue change mentions a new pavilion featuring international authors and an exhibit about books adapted into memorable films. Instead of ending in the late afternoon, the festival’s schedule will be able to run well into the evening, Gavin says.

Although some are put off by moving the festival indoors—”Ug,” tweeted Washington Post Book World editor Ron Charles—there is an obvious upside to putting it inside. The convention center is a lot less charming than the Mall, but it’s got air conditioning and a roof, not inconsiderable amenities in a town where late August days are often hot, humid, and rainy.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.