Annual literary festival Books in Bloom on Sunday marked the grand opening of a multifaceted bookstore chain and welcomed a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to its main stage.

Based in a mixed-use cultural center called the Merriweather District in the master-planned community of Columbia, Maryland, Books in Bloom has become one of the D.C. metro area’s most well-known progressive book events. In its fifth year, the festival hosted several authors at Color Burst Park throughout the day with The 1619 Project creator and The New York Times investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones serving as the featured author. Over 150 spectators roamed the park’s grounds to eat, drink, and be bookish.

The festival also highlighted the soft opening of the new location of Busboys and Poets, a popular D.C. bookstore chain known for its added restaurant, bar, café, and venue concept. Dozens lined up at the bookstore-eatery after the festival, where the business had a pop-up stand. Beside its tent was the Howard County mobile library.

With past headliners such as White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo, political journalist April Ryan, and award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, this year’s headliner Nikole Hannah-Jones was joined by the following authors:

Amy Argetsinger, author of There She Was: The Secret History of Miss America

Milagros Phillips, author of Cracking the Healer’s Code

Jake Tapper, author of The Devil May Dance

Maureen Corrigan, author of So We Read On

Ram Devineni, Ashley A. Woods, and Yusef Komunyakaa of Jupiter Invincible

Laura Lippman, author of Dream Girl

Stacey Vanek Smith, author of Machiavelli for Women: Defend Your Worth, Grow Your Ambition, and Win the Workplace

Aparna Verma, author of The Boy with Fire

In anticipation of the Penguin Random House Nov. 16 release of The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story and the children’s version The 1619 Project: Born on the Water with Piecing Me Together novelist Renée Watson, Nikole sat in an hourlong conversation with Busboys and Poets founder Andy Shallat. She broke down the pivotal year of 1619 and how the conflicting nature of events fails to be taught in our schools.

“Two things happened in 1619: the arrival of the White Lion and the beginning of African slavery in the thirteen colonies, but it’s also when the country took its first step towards democracy,” she said. “It’s when the English colonists took a vote on this land for the first time. Democracy and anti-democracy are birthed in the same moment. The idea of freedom and slavery is birthed in the same moment in this country, but we’re not taught that.”

Tweeting under the user name Ida Bae Wells, Nikole also explained why Ida B. Wells is her role model, especially when the newspaper she works for now once called the groundbreaking Black investigative journalist a “slanderous and nasty-minded mulattress,” also referenced in Nikole’s Twitter bio.

“What Ida B. Wells means to me personally is she was the first example of a Black woman doing what I hoped to do, which shows you a lot about our field, right?” she said. “That I had to go to a woman born right at the Emancipation Proclamation to see a model of a Black investigative reporter who was a woman, who was a feminist, who was a civil rights activist, who was doing the type of reporting that I wanted to see.”

“But also that legacy of lineage matters,” she continued. “To understand that there were badass Black women who were doing things at a time when there was no help that was going to come to protect Ida B. Wells when she was investigating lynchings.”

She added the actions of Black female writers before her sets the tone for her work:

It gives you courage. It gives you strength. It helps you understand what you’re doing, and it gives you humility that you didn’t create this. There are a lot of folks who came before you. There are a lot of folks who had to sacrifice and suffer for you to do the work that you do and that, to me, gives the motivation for the work that I’m trying to do because I have to repay this debt that I owe.

Besides the literary content, the park’s atmosphere was filled with Instagrammable features, including a welcome arch made from books, light-studded signs, and pumpkin-and-hay stacks, splashed with the festival’s lavender-hued branding. A chalkboard requested attendees write down what they’re reading. The district also had restaurants with outside seating like Dok Khao Thai Eatery, The Charmery, Clove & Cardamom, and Cured and 18th & 21st.

The event was free with tickets available on Eventbrite. Almost all attendees followed the mask mandate. Street and garage parking around the Merriweather District was free for the festival.