Festival of Books ready to add another jam-packed chapter


The largest book festival in the United States will reprise on the USC campus this weekend, April 9 and 10, when the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books has its 21st edition. Much has changed in the publishing industry since the L.A. Times launched the festival in 1996, and it is significant that the festival, like book publishing itself, has morphed into something far more expansive and diverse. In many ways, the event is now an all-in festival of arts and letters, and its 500-plus presenters include not only authors, but also celebrities, musicians, artists, chefs and much more.

Arianna Huffington. Photo courtesy of huffingtonpost.com

Carrie Brownstein. Photo by JohnnyMrNinja/Wikipedia

To be sure, the beating heart of the festival remains the program of book-themed talks and interviews that take place in classrooms, lecture halls and auditoriums across the USC campus. Among this year’s featured authors in the L.A. Times Ideas Exchange series, for example, are Carrie Brownstein, co-creator of the “Portlandia” television series and author of the best-selling autobiography “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl,” and Arianna Huffington, digital media mogul and author of “The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night At a Time,” who will be in conversation with Times veteran columnist Robin Abcarian. Padma Lakshmi, author of “Love, Loss and What We Ate: A Memoir,” will be interviewed by Noelle Carter, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin will talk about his latest book, “No Dream Is Too High: Life Lessons From a Man Who Walked on the Moon,” with L.A. Times book editor Carolyn Kellogg.

Padma Lakshmi. Photo by Tabercil/Wikipedia

Buzz Aldrin. Photo by Phil Konstantin/Wikipedia

Another tradition of the Festival of Books is the awards ceremony for the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, now in its 36th year, which honors the best books of the previous year in nine categories, ranging from biography and history to graphic novels and comics. The program includes a lifetime achievement award given in the name of my late father, a longtime Times book critic, Robert Kirsch, which will be bestowed this year on poet, author and activist Juan Felipe Herrera; an award for “first fiction” named after the L.A. Times’ late book editor and Book Prize founder Art Seidenbaum; and an Innovator’s Award, which will honor best-selling author James Patterson for his philanthropic efforts “to make books and reading a national priority.” The awards ceremony takes place on the evening of April 9 in Bovard Auditorium, and it’s always the single-best opportunity to spot a constellation of authors and other movers and shakers in the publishing industry all in one place.

Luis J. Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of luisjrodriguez.com

The good vibe at the festival, which got its start as a rare opportunity for book lovers to meet one another en masse, is now something more than the sum of its parts. If you are a purist, of course, you can stop by the Poetry Stage to hear readings by such celebrated poets as Jorie Graham, Andrei Codrescu, Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez and California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia. Or you can marvel at the erudition on display when Joyce Carol Oates is interviewed by KCRW broadcaster Michael Silverblatt

Joyce Carol Oates. Photo by Larry D. Moore/Wikipedia

But you can also see and sample cooking demonstrations, listen to travel talks, watch local artists at work in the Artists’ Row gallery space or at the five street art installations around the campus, take the kids to children’s and young-adult stages for nonstop performances, or simply sit back and enjoy the sounds. The festivities begin on the morning of April 9 with the eye-dazzling and heart-pumping spectacle of the Trojan Marching Band, and the musical-stage performances range from the Saved by Grace Gospel Choir to an alt-country group called I See Hawks in L.A.

The Festival of Books, in fact, reaches beyond the USC campus. Among the attractions featured in the Festival After Dark program is the Book Drop Bash, a Saturday night gala hosted by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles at the Los Angeles Public Library. A library can be even more magical by night, especially when good books are enhanced with music, food and drink, as well the authors and presenters who participated in the book prize ceremonies earlier in the evening. And the price of admission is the donation of a book. 

So many sights, so little time! Truth be told, experienced festival-goers have already strategized  the attractions that they want to attend, an effort that requires luck, timing and a good pair of legs, if only because there are so many events at so many venues over the hectic two days of programming. Tickets for some of the events have already sold out, but there is always something to see and do at FOB. For the complete schedule of the Festival of Books, as well as prices, information and tickets, visit

+