Busboys and Poets
Each of Busboys and Poets' four locations (Hyattsville, Shirlington, 14th Street, and Mount Vernon Triangle) has its own open mic series, plus all kinds of other free events, including lectures, book signings, and readings.
Free. See a full schedule of events here; locations vary.
Politics & Prose
This D.C. institution keeps a fully packed calendar of literary events, focusing mostly on nonfiction works in the genres of politics, history, foreign affairs, health, and culture. (Hey, you said you wanted to boost your brainpower, right?) In February, things take a lighter turn when The Office star B.J. Novak comes to sign his new book of short stories.
Free; see a full schedule here. 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW; 202-364-1919.
In Your Ear
Even if you haven't read a poem since high school, the poets featured in this series will kickstart your creativity. The series is hosted in an art gallery in the heart of Adams Morgan, so you can take in great visual art while listening to great poetry.
Third Sunday of every month at 3 p.m. $5; free for D.C. Arts Center members. D.C. Arts Center, 2438 18th Street NW; 202-462-7833.
Sixth & I
This historic synagogue offers incredible readings and book signings, featuring everyone from famous novelists like Wally Lamb (She's Come Undone) to up-and-coming memoirists and nonfiction writers like Yascha Mounk.
Prices vary; see a full schedule of events here. 600 I Street NW; 202-408-3100.
PEN/Faulkner Reading Series at the Folger Library
You'll have to pay for a ticket (or a subscription) to this series, but the opportunity to see authors like Amy Tan, George Saunders, and Tom Perrotta in person makes it more than worth it.
Prices vary; see a full schedule of events here. 201 East Capitol Street SE; 202-544-4600.
Three Tents Reading Series
These fun, lively readings boast the best of the indie-lit world (both fiction writers and poets), and involve good beer and tasty bar food, to boot. Recent readers include Roxane Gay and Elliott Holt.
Free; readings occur monthly. See the schedule here. The Big Hunt, 1345 Connecticut Avenue NW; 202-785-2333.
Library of Congress
Of course, the Library of Congress puts on some of the best arts-and-letters events around. Take your pick from lectures featuring everyone from poet laureate Natasha Trethewey to more esoteric, niche writers.
Most events are free; see a full schedule of events here. 101 Independence Avenue SE; 202-707-5000.