In 1995 the First Lady of Texas Laura Bush (a former librarian) founded the Texas Book Festival with Mary Margaret Farabee and other volunteers. The goal of the festival was to honor Texas authors, promote the joys of reading, and benefit the state’s public libraries. The first Texas Book Festival took place in November 1996.
As First Lady of the United States, Laura Bush worked with Librarian of Congress James H. Billington to create the National Book Festival. At a news conference announcing the inaugural event Billington said, "We must all try, in every way we can, to send the message that reading is critical to our lives and to the life of our nation."
The first National Book Festival took place on September 8, 2001 at the Library of Congress and on the east lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The event featured more than 60 award-winning authors, illustrators and storytellers from across the country including Stephen Ambrose, Natalie Babbitt, Robin Cook, Billy Collins, Sue Grafton, Larry L. King, David Levering Lewis, David McCullough, Walter Mosley, Katherine Patterson, Richard Peck, Gary Soto, and Scott Turow. Additional activities included book-signings, musical performances, storytelling, panel discussions, demonstrations of illustration and new technologies. Fifteen NBA players attended as representatives of the National Basketball Association's national reading campaign, "Read to Achieve." The first National Book Fair attracted between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors.
The 2002 Festival featured more than 70 authors, illustrators and storytellers from across the country and hosted more than 45,000 visitors on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol and the National Mall. A new addition to the Festival was the Pavilion of the States which highlighted regional books.
The 2008 National Book Festival attracted a crowd of more than 120,000 visitors and about 70 well known authors, illustrators and poets. Participating authors included: Tiki Barber, Mary Brigid Barrett, Jan Brett, Geraldine Brooks, Sandra Brown, Dan Chiasson, Eleanor Clift, Philippa Gregory, Steven Kellogg, Katherine Paterson, Salman Rushdie, Bob Schieffer, Jon Scieszka, Alexander McCall Smith, R. L. Stine, and Gordon S. Wood.
After 12 years on the National Mall, the National Book Festival moved indoors to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in 2014. More than 200,000 people attended the 2013 National Book Festival and following that event, the National Park Service implemented new protocols and requirements to avoid damage to the grass on the National Mall. Stephen Lorenzetti, the Park Service’s deputy superintendent for planning at the National Mall and Memorial Parks, said “There are new procedures to make sure that the grass survives. This can make it more expensive for events to take place... We worked closely with the library to allow the festival to continue at a reasonable cost. We showed them how they might use the walkways and the roadways. But in the end, the library decided that it was more affordable to move to a different venue. We respect their decision.” Jennifer Gavin, project manager of the Library of Congress National Book Festival, confirmed the reason for the change of venue, saying “We spent months working with the Park Service to see if we could make this work... But when we looked at the costs — and they were considerable — we decided that the festival-goers would be better served by moving it into the convention center.” The move indoors allowed the Festival to expand into nighttime events, cookbook demonstrations, and screenings of film adaptions of books.
The Literary Director currently in charge of all programming of the Festival is author Marie Arana, former editor in chief of Book World at the Washington Post and now Literary Director of the Library of Congress.
This festival has gone virtual since 2020.
Each year the Festival commissions an artist to design an event poster.
- Lu Ann Barrow (2001)
- Carol Dyer (2002)
- Joey Manlapaz (2003)
- Floyd Cooper (2004)
- Jerry Pinkney (2005)
- Gennady Spirin (2006)
- Mercer Mayer (2007)
- Jan Brett (2008)
- Charles Santore (2009)
- Peter Ferguson (2010)
- Jon J Muth (2011)
- Rafael López (2012)
- Suzy Lee (2013)
- Bob Staake (2014)
- Peter de Sève (2015)
- Yuko Shimizu (2016)
- Roz Chast (2017)
- Gaby D'Alessandro (2018)
- Marian Bantjes (2019)
- "Mission and History - Texas Book Festival". Texas Book Festival. Archived from the original on 2018-06-27. Retrieved 2017-07-20.
- "National Book Festival". Library of Congress Information Bulletin (July/August 2001). Library of Congress. Retrieved 2017-07-20.
- "National Book Festival to be Held September 8". The Library of Congress. Retrieved 2017-07-20.
- "The National Book Festival 2001". georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov. Retrieved 2017-07-20.
- "The National Book Festival". Whitehouse George W. Bush.
- Stevens, Roberta A. (2002-12-01). "Report on the National Book Festival, September 8, 2001". Collection Building. 21 (4): 171–173. doi:10.1108/01604950210733243. ISSN 0160-4953.
- "The National Book Festival 2002". georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov. Retrieved 2017-07-20.
- "The National Book Festival 2003". georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov. Retrieved 2017-07-20.
- "The National Book Festival 2008". georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov. Retrieved 2017-07-20.
- "Festival Background | National Book Festival - Library of Congress". www.loc.gov. Retrieved 2017-07-20.
- Charles, Ron (2014-01-08). "National Book Festival to move indoors this year". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-07-20.