Independent Bookstores Help Promote National Book Festival

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Throughout the U.S. this month and next, the importance of reading is taking center stage as 22 State Centers for the Book help to promote the upcoming National Book Festival, to be held in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, October 12, 2002. In Arkansas and Minnesota, state Centers for the Book are doing this with help from independent booksellers.

First Lady Laura Bush

The National Book Festival will be hosted by First Lady Laura Bush and is organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress (the promotional efforts are funded by grants to the Center for the Book from AT&T and the Carnegie Corporation of New York). Since late August, and continuing through the first week in October, state affiliates of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress have been organizing and hosting events and programs.

"Each state center develops its own projects to promote books, reading, literacy, and libraries," said John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, in a press statement. "Both the state centers and the National Book Festival will benefit from this effort."

Currently, the Arkansas Center for the Book is holding a series of storytelling programs at six Arkansas bookstores. The programs began September 7 and are being held on four Saturdays throughout the month -- September 7, 14, 21, and 28. Participating independent bookstores include: That Bookstore in Blytheville; That Bookstore at Mountebanq Place in Conway; Jefferson Street Books in El Dorado; Books Galore in Harrison; and Wordsworth Books in Little Rock.

The bookstores are using both professional and amateur Arkansas storytellers, and each is adapting the program to appeal to their own clientele and circumstances. For That Bookstore at Mountebanq Place in Conway, one day of storytelling wasn't enough in an area that prides itself on its rich oral tradition, said Mary Alice Hurst, the store's owner.

On Friday, September 20, the store will hold "Storytellers for Kids," which will consist of four 50-minute storytelling sessions -- each session for a group of 80 fourth-graders. "We want to start teaching the kids the importance of storytelling," said Hurst. "We couldn't include everyone from all the schools, so -- we thought that fourth-graders were old enough to learn and young enough to be intrigued."

On Saturday, the storytelling program will run all day, from 10:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m. It will feature fifth-grade children, who have taken a class in storytelling, as well as other storytellers and musicians.

Hurst is very excited about the upcoming storytelling program, as well as the promotion in general. "It's critically important that we have a literate society," she said. "Without literate people, there is no opportunity for knowledge, without knowledge, there's no economy. I do everything I can in the store to promote literacy."

Mary Armstrong, a bookseller at That Bookstore in Blytheville, which is holding its storytelling program on Saturday, September 28, concurred. "Anything we can do to encourage people to read or be involved with books, we'll do," she said.

In addition to the storytelling programs, each Arkansas store is displaying and distributing National Book Festival posters and bookmarks.

In Minnesota, the state Center for the Book has created a bookstore-based People's Choice award that will determine the favorite authors of Minnesotans. The balloting is taking place this month in bookstores throughout the state. Each bookstore was provided with 250 ballots for a total of 25,000 votes, as well as publicity materials highlighting both the Minnesota People's Choice Award and the National Book Festival. The results will be announced simultaneously on October 12 at the Minnesota Center for the Book (with local television coverage) and at the Minnesota table in the Pavilion of the States at the National Book Festival.

For more information on the National Book Festival, go to or call toll-free (888) 714-4696.

If your bookstore is doing something special to help promote the importance of reading in conjunction with your State Center for the Book and the National Book Festival, contact David Grogan, BTW associate editor, at (800) 637-0037, ext. 1258, or e-mail,