On April 18 and 19, the LA Times will host its 20th annual Festival of Books at the University of Southern California. The free event is a mammoth gathering of literature enthusiasts, and deciding where to go and who to hear speak can be daunting.
For those who want to soak up LA culture
Tourists and California veterans alike love to talk about how great California is. Listen to other people talk about how great the state is with KPCC’s Molly Peterson. She will be moderating “Almost Paradise: Sustainability, Power and Politics in LA.”
For the Golden State loyalists, head over to “The Santa Anas in My Sails: Self & Culture in California Poetry.” It will feature moderator Thomas Curwen, an LA Times staff writer who just spoke to Professor Bob Sipchen’s Narrative Journalism class last week.
If none of that sounds appealing, sit in on “Fiction: New California Noir,” where novelist Kem Nunn will hopefully inform listeners about how he got into what some have called “surf noir,” specifically his novel “Tapping the Source” and HBO show “John from Cincinnati.”
For those who want to rub elbows with famous people
This festival is going to make the Emmys look B-list. To see a living legend, check out Joyce Carol Oates speak with KCRW Radio’s Michael Silverblatt about her new book, “The Sacrifice,” published last January.
For those who cannot wait for the “Orange Is the New Black” premiere, hear Kate Mulgrew (who plays the character Red) talk about her new memoir, “Born With Teeth.” She does not have the Russian accent in real life, but her presence will be just as fierce.
For those who miss “How I Met Your Mother,” “Reading Rainbow” or “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” actors Jason Segel and LeVar Burton will be discussing their new books, and Will Wheaton will talk with science fiction author John Scalzi about his new novel “Lock In.”
Then, if the weekend is not star-studded enough, Patton Oswalt, Jon Cryer and Candice Bergen will participate in talks throughout the festival as well.
For those who love poetry
The festival has an entire “poetry stage” (no ticket required) with readings from up-and-comers every half hour. For those willing to wake up early on a Sunday, five authors from the indie anthology “Wide Awake: Poets of L.A. and Beyond” will convene at 10 a.m.
To see San Francisco’s Poet Laureate Alejandro Marguía, go to “The Shape of Poetry: The Anxiety of Form in a Shifting World.” Also speaking will be Fred Moten, winner of the National Book Award for Poetry.
Do make sure to hit the Poetry Flash Booth as well, which will be representing an organization that promises to provide the public with information about the West Coast literary scene and to support independent poets, according to the festival website. Also on display will be the Beyond Baroque Bookstore & Poetry Lounge, which has its brick-and-mortar location in Venice.
For those who want to smash the racist heterosexist patriarchy
The literary scene is not always kind to marginalized voices, but thankfully, talks like “Speaking Out: Human Rights & Social Justice” or “Being Black: Race and Justice in the U.S.” will help bring awareness to social issues related to their experience.
Events highlighting women’s contributions to literature and entertainment will be a feature at the festival. Look out for conversations like “Writing With a Smirk: Women & Humor,” which includes Issa Rae, creator of the critically-acclaimed but short-lived web series “Awkward Black Girl,” as one of its speakers. There will also be a talk entitled “Nonfiction: Women on Their Own Terms” with Rebecca Solnit, who came up with the concept (not the term) behind “mansplaining.”
The LGBTQ+ community will also have its share of star-studded events. Actress Maria Bello will talk about her book “Whatever…Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves,” which explores societal perceptions, especially those geared toward women, of what defines a relationship. The book follows Bello’s popular personal essay for the “Modern Love” section of The New York Times, in which she recounted her relief at how cooly her son took the news that she had fallen in love with a woman. Both the column and the book examine themes of love, partnership and family.
LA Galaxy player Robbie Rogers will talk about his own book, “Coming Out to Play,” about his life since coming out last year. He focuses on how he was terrified of the reaction he would get in the often homophobic world of professional sports, but was ultimately accepted by his friends and teammates.
For aspiring writers
There is plenty of advice from this year’s speakers. In “Finding Focus: Writing Niche Topics,” three novelists as well as New Yorker writer Mary Norris and advice columnist Amy Alkon will be discussing their craft. Similarly, the literary-minded will appreciate “Approaches to Writing Memoir,” with KPCC’s Sandra Loh, and professors David Wilson, Leo Baudy, and Bernard Cooper, a novelist and recipient of the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men’s Biography/Autobiography. Yet for those looking to take the next step with their work, the talks “Publishing: The New Writer’s Toolbox,” and “Inside Publishing” will have perspectives from both writers and publishing insiders from Harper Collins, Gray Wolf Press and Hill Nadell Literary Agency.
For those in a networking mood instead, go for the booths from literary magazines like Bookforum, publishing houses like Red Hen Press or the various Los Angeles writing societies. Those thinking about graduate school can checkout the booth for USC’s PhD in Creative Writing & Literature program.
For those who hate reading
The Upright Citizens Brigade will be performing, as will a host of music acts. There will be pop, Latin, A Capella, neo-soul, folk and alternative artists gracing the stage, as well as a performance from the cast of “Matilda the Musical.” Also take a look at the Artists’ Row, featuring local artists.
While the festival website has recommended local places to eat, there is plenty for foodies within USC as well. A booth called “Cooking With Trader Joe’s” might interest some, but for those looking for existential conversations about food, a talk called “Food and Identity: The Culture of Eating in America” might prove interesting. The frequent Food Network guest Simon Majumdar will be there.
For those who like their existential food conversations to be specifically about LA food culture, go for “To Live and Dine in LA: Food Pasts, Food Futures,” or “Eat This: The LA Food Movement.” The latter will be moderated by longtime LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold.
In addition to the events listed here, the festival’s website has a full schedule of all the events taking place over the weekend, as well as where they will be and a map of the campus. Events will generally take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Although festival admission is free, some talks require advance tickets, depending on the location, which can be purchased online for $1. With the wide array of speakers and booths, planning ahead is essential to making the most of the festival.