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Literature

National Book Festival Returns This Weekend, Features AU Faculty and Alumni

Professors Kyle Dargan and Dolen Perkins-Valdez will be featured at nation’s most prominent literary event

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This weekend, the annual Library of Congress National Book Festival returns live for the first time since 2019, featuring more than 120 authors and poets and celebrities, including American University professors Dolen Perkins Valdez and Kyle Dargan. The festival takes place on Saturday, September 3, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, with the theme Books Bring Us Together.

“To have the National Book Festival back and live is a triumph for Washington and for America really. That we are expending the resources to safely serve the brain hunger of readers, writers, and keepers of literature — like librarians — is a show of care for the whole citizen,” says Dargan. “The body needs to be protected and the mind needs to be fed inspiration. To the latter, the magic of the festival has been a feast in past years, and it is an honor to be featured in this return.”

College of Arts and Sciences Dean Linda Aldoory says the festival has been a staple in her life as a native Washingtonian. “And it’s even more exciting that the College has two of our more than 400 outstanding professors in attendance and representing the quality of the humanities that can be found here at AU.”

The Memory Librarian 

Kyle Dargan

Dargan is an award-winning poet, an associate professor in AU’s Department of Literature, a former head of AU’s Creative Writing Program, and the author of five collections of poetry. At the festival, he will be moderating a panel featuring the celebrated singer-songwriter and actor Janelle Monáe as she talks about her first book, The Memory Librarian (Harper Collins, 2022). 

The Memory Librarian and Other Stories of Dirty Computer by Janelle MonáeThe book is a collaborative collection, and it is well known by Dargan, who served as its managing editor. Throughout 2021, Dargan worked with Monáe to select contributors, curate stories for inclusion, edit the manuscript, and manage the collaborative process. The book has become a New York Times bestseller, bringing to the written page the Afrofuturistic world of one of Monáe’s critically acclaimed albums, exploring how different threads of liberation become tangled with future possibilities of memory and time.

Yohanca Delgado

At the festival, Dargan and Monáe will be joined on stage by two contributors to The Memory Librarian: Alaya Dawn Johnson and Yohanca Delgado. Delgado is an American University MFA program graduate whose work has appeared in The Paris Review, Story, A Public Space, The Believer, One Story, and elsewhere. She was recently awarded a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Event Details 

Janelle Monáe Talks About "The Memory Librarian," Moderated by Kyle Dargan 
Saturday, September 3, 2022
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. 
Book Signing to follow at 1 – 1:30 p.m. Walter E. Washington Convention Center - Hall D (Level 2, North Building, Main Stage) 

*This event will also be livestreamed on loc.gov. It will be available for viewing afterwards in the Library of Congress Event Videos collection. 

Take My Hand

AU Literature Professor Dolen Perkins-Valdez will discuss and sign her newest novel, Take My Hand (Berkley, 2022), at the festival. Perkins-Valdez is the current chair of the board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and the author of New York Times bestsellers Wench and Balm. She has written introductions to a special edition of Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave and Elizabeth Keckly’s Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. In 2011, she was a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction. In 2017, HarperCollins released Wench as one of eight "Olive Titles," limited edition modern classics that included books by Edward P. Jones, Louise Erdrich, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Dolen Perkins-Valdez: Take My HandTake My Hand revolves around Civil Townsend, a Black nurse whose life is traced from the early days of her career in 1973 to her eventual retirement. Inspired by true events, the book lays bare the shameful history of state-sanctioned abuses against Black girls and women by medical professionals in America.

The book was named a “Most Anticipated Book of 2022” by Newsweek, the San Francisco Chronicle, Essence, Yahoo! News, The Nerd Daily, Daily Mail, Electric Literature, BookBub, Ms. Magazine, BuzzFeed, Parade, Oprah Daily, NBC News, and more.  

Celeste Ng described Take My Hand as “deeply empathetic yet unflinching in its gaze…an unforgettable exploration of responsibility and redemption,” A review in Essence magazine says, “[Take My Hand] highlights the horrific discrepancies in our healthcare system and illustrates their heartbreaking consequences.” Chris Bohjalian writes, “Take My Hand is a gem: one of those rare and beautiful novels that walks the balance beam of heartbreak and hope. Dolen Perkins-Valdez demonstrates once again the way she can breathe life into history through fiction that adds deep and profound meaning to the past — and makes its relevance to the present meaningful and clear.”

Event Information 

Dolen Perkins-Valdez on Her New Novel "Take My Hand"
Saturday, September 3, 2022
2:20 - 3:05 p.m.
Book Signing at 3:30 - 4:30 p.m.
Walter E. Washington Convention Center - Ballroom A (Level 3, South Building)

More Information About the Festival 

Sponsored by the Library of Congress, all the National Book Festival’s readings and talks are free and open to the public, with doors opening at 8:30 a.m., and the last session closing at 8 p.m. Advanced tickets are not required, though events are first-come, first-served. A full schedule is available on the festival website.