The American Library Association Annual Conference & Exhibition will return to the great city of New Orleans for the first time since 2011, June 21–26—and the show is setting up to be a memorable one. The main program is loaded with A-list authors and speakers (including a former first lady and two award-winning actors), the professional program is strong (and more tightly organized than in past years), attendance is looking good, and of course—it’s New Orleans, one of America’s most extraordinary cities.

The good times get rolling at the Opening General Session, on Friday, June 22, (4–5:30 p.m. at the Morial Convention Center, Exhibit Hall F) with a highly anticipated appearance by Michelle Obama. One of the most popular first ladies in modern history, Obama’s memoir, Becoming, is set to be published in November by Crown. Though few details about the book’s contents are known a this time, Obama has described writing it as “a deeply personal experience” that has given her the opportunity to “honestly reflect on the unexpected trajectory” of her life.

As part of the program, Obama will be joined on stage for a conversation with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. And if that wasn’t enough wattage to power the conference kickoff, the session will also feature a performance by New Orleans legend Trombone Shorty and students from his Trombone Shorty Foundation.

World-renowned presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin kicks off the Auditorium speaker series on Saturday (June 23, from 8:30–9:30 a.m., Morial Convention Center New Orleans Theater B). Goodwin’s most recent book, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism won the ALA’s 2014 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, and is currently in development with Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Animation studio—Goodwin’s second time working with Spielberg, whose movie Lincoln was based in part on her bestseller Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Simon & Schuster will publish Goodwin’s new book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times, this fall.

Following Goodwin on Saturday (10:30–11:30 a.m., Morial Convention Center New Orleans Theater B), the ALA will honor this year’s host city by featuring local author Robert W. Fieseler, author of Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation, which reconstructs the 1973 arson that devastated New Orleans’s subterranean gay community, the largest mass murder of gays until the Pulse tragedy in 2016.

In its review, PW wrote that Fieseler’s “attention to detail and intricate exploration of the material is spot-on” and that the book shines “a bright light on a dark and largely forgotten moment in the history of the gay rights movement.”

Closing out Saturday’s main program, two-time Academy Award and three-time Emmy Award–winning actor Sally Field will address librarians (3:30–4:30 p.m., Morial Convention Center New Orleans Theater B). This fall, Grand Central will publish Field’s memoir, In Pieces, in which Field writes about her “challenging and lonely childhood” and how her love of acting helped her find her voice.

Sunday’s program begins with journalist and author Jonathan Eig (Sunday June 24, 8:30–9:30 a.m., Morial Convention Center New Orleans Theater B). Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has calls Eig a “master storyteller,” and his 2017 book, Ali: A Life, was the first biography to detail Muhammad Ali’s entire life, taking home a slew of awards, including the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sportswriting.

Following Eig comes a very special program entitled “The Librarian and the Archivist” featuring Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and National Archivist David Ferriero, who will discuss the importance of their respective roles and the challenges of “collecting physical information and materials in the digital age.”

Closing out Sunday’s slate, author Tracy K. Smith & journalist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas will join ALA president Jim Neal for the annual ALA Awards Presentation & President’s Program (Sunday, June 24, 2018 3–5:30 p.m. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans Theater B). Smith is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Ordinary Light and four books of poetry, including her collection Life on Mars. Vargas, who was born in the Philippines and brought to the United States illegally as a 12 year-old, will discuss his timely first book, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, which will be published this fall by HarperCollins, and is described as “an exploration of what it means to be ‘home’ when the country you live in doesn’t consider you one of its own.”

Monday’s program will feature championship poetry slam writer Gayle Danley (June 25, 2018 10:30–11:30 a.m., Morial Convention Center New Orleans Theater B). Danley will present “Poets Lives Matter: Poems from the Road,” sharing her electrifying original poetry about her experiences as a master teaching artist visiting schools, libraries, and detention facilities across the nation.

And on Tuesday, Viola Davis will keynote the Closing General Session and discuss her new children’s book, Corduroy Takes a Bow (June 26, from 10–11:30 a.m., Morial Convention Center New Orleans Theater B), which will be published by Penguin Young Readers this fall. Using her own experiences as a Tony Award–winning Broadway actress, Davis writes the story of Corduroy and Lisa’s first trip to the theater, sure to spark an interest in theater in children of any age.

Exhibits and More

As always, a highlight of any ALA is the exhibit floor, which features hundreds of publishers and vendors, as well as multiple pavilions and stages where there will be more author appearances (check the ALA program online for the full schedule). The exhibits will open with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting immediately after the Opening General Session on Friday, June 21, at 5:30 p.m., followed by a reception with food, drinks, and entertainment.

In addition to the main speaker program and appearances in the exhibit hall, the conference features a number of special events. Please note: some of these events require tickets—please check the ALA conference website for information on ticketed events.

Among the special event highlights: the reception for the Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction. If you’ve never been to one before, you should try to go—the event always features the award-winning authors and the best award speeches you will hear anywhere.

Now in its seventh year, this year’s event, cosponsored by NoveList and the ALA’s Reference and User Services Association, will feature Sue Halpern as guest speaker and fiction winner Jennifer Egan, who took home the award for her book Manhattan Beach. Notably, the nonfiction winner, Sherman Alexie, will not appear, bowing out after sexual misconduct allegations emerged against him. The reception is set for Saturday, June 24, 8–10 p.m. at the Sheraton New Orleans, Ballroom C. Tickets are $40 ($30 for RUSA members) and are available via the ALA annual conference web site.

The 49th Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast will be held Sunday, June 24, 7–9:30 a.m. The breakfast annually honors the year’s Coretta Scott King award–winners (note: this event is currently listed as sold-out).

And on Sunday evening, the Association for Library Service to Children will host its annual Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Awards Banquet (6–11 p.m. Grand Ballroom, Hilton New Orleans Riverside). Tickets are $94. The program is scheduled to include the award presentations to and remarks from this year’s winners (the 2018 Newbery Medalist is Erin Entrada Kelly; the Caldecott Medalist is Matthew Cordell).

As always, check your program for changes. And let the good times roll!