The Ten Most Exciting Panels At This Year's LA Times Festival Of Books
On Thursday, the LA Times announced the lineup for their 22nd annual Festival of Books, which will be held on April 22 and 23 at USC. The Festival of Books is the nation's largest literary festival and the greatest event known to man.
The massive festival, which will take over the USC campus for the weekend, features readings, speakers, live music, art installations, cooking demonstrations, children's events, and a seemingly (gloriously!) endless array of literary booths. It also happens to coincide with the second weekend of Coachella, which is also known as the poor man's Festival of Books. The vast majority of the festival's events are free to the public, though some require ticket reservations. Without further ado, here are the ten panels we are most excited for.
Fiction: The Storytellers
Saturday April 22, 2017 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
I literally couldn't make this lineup in my dreams. Three of the greatest contemporary female novelists working today in conversation, moderated by none other than former LA Times book critic David Ulin. If you aren't familiar with Dana Spiotta (Innocents and Others, Eat the Document, Stone Arabia), here is an excellent New York Times Magazine profile about her quietly subversive fiction and how she's "created a new kind of great American novel." Mona Simpson is the author of Anywhere But Here, a truly underrated Los Angeles novel (as well as the basis of that 1999 Natalie Portman movie of the same title). And Rachel Kushner, of course, is best-known for her second novel The Flamethrowers, which blew the eff up when it came out in 2013, for good reason. This panel is gonna be lit. It's like if Beyonce and Lady Gaga were both playing Coachella.
Nonfiction: Activists on the Front Lines
Saturday April 22, 2017 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Activism's fundamental role in our democracy long predates the Protests Are The New Brunch zeitgeist of late. But what does that activism look like, and how has it influenced change throughout the decades? Cleve Jones, a labor activist who worked alongside gay activist Harvey Milk in the 1970s and conceived the idea of the AIDS memorial quilt, will be joined by Wesley Lowery, a Washington Post reporter whose work on the front lines of Black Lives Matter protests formed the basis of his book They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement. Also, anti-war activist and Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic (author of the memoir Born on the Fourth of July) will discuss activist movements past and present, and how they affect government and policy. The panel will be moderated by LA Times writer Matt Pearce.
Walls and Lines in the Sand: The Shifting Landscape of Immigration
Saturday April 22, 2017 12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Varun Soni is the Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California (USC) and the first Hindu to serve as the chief religious or spiritual leader of an American university. Soni will lead a trio of big name fellow USC professors in a discussion about the shifting landscape of immigration in America. The legendary Manuel Pastor (director of the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration) has focused his research on the economic, environmental and social conditions facing low-income urban communities—and the social movements seeking to change those realities. Niels Frenzen, an expert in immigration and refugee law, directs the USC Gould School of Law Immigration Clinic (he is also an expert at explaining the complicated intricacies of immigration law in terms a layman can understand; this reporter remains extremely grateful for the questions he has patiently answered over the phone for several stories). Pastor and Frenzen will be joined on the panel by Gould School of Law's Emily Ryo, whose research focuses on immigration, criminal justice, legal attitudes and legal noncompliance, and procedural justice.
Nonfiction: The Future Is Female
Saturday April 22, 2017 12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.
Lindy West AND Rebecca Solnit on ONE stage?! Be still, my beating heart. The magnificent, unapologetically feminist and famously troll-squashing West (formerly of The Stranger, now a columnist at The Guardian and a contributor to This American Life) and writer/historian/activist Solnit (see this Longreads interview with her for a taste of her perspective) will be joined by Betty Fussell in a panel moderated by Joy Press. Fussell, for those who are unfamiliar, is an 89-year-old essayist and author who has written some 20 books on travel and food, including her most recent collection of essays, Eat, Live, Love, Die, which was released last fall.
Telling Syria's Stories
Saturday April 22, 2017 3:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Elliot Ackerman is a decorated five-tour veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan based in Istanbul whose nonfiction frequently appears in The New Yorker, and who has also written several highly praised works of fiction set in the Middle East. Journalist and civil rights lawyer Alia Malek's reporting from Syria earned her the Marie Colvin Award in November 2013, and her narrative nonfiction book, The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria, was released last month. Christopher Phillips, a professor of Middle Eastern international relations, released last year a book called The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East. The LA Times' Jeffrey Fleishman, a former foreign correspondent, will moderate the discussion on telling Syria's stories.
Virgina Grohl, Author of 'From Cradle to Stage,' in Conversation with Dave Grohl
Saturday April 22, 2017 3:40 p.m. - 4:20 p.m.
Dave Grohl's mom Virginia Grohl wrote a book where she spent two years traveling around, interviewing the mothers of other rock stars, including Verna Griffin, Dr. Dre's mother; Marianne Stipe, Michael Stipe's mother; Janis Winehouse, Amy Winehouse's mother; Patsy Noah, Adam Levine's mother; and Donna Haim, mother of the Haim sisters. Dave Grohl rocks and his mom rules. They will converse. It will be epic.
Roxane Gay in Conversation with Alexander Chee
Saturday April 22, 2017 4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Roxane Gay, the greatest literary celebrity of our time and certainly of your Twitter feed, will converse with the wonderful Alexander Chee. It's criminal that Chee isn't also a household name, but I strongly believe that it's only a matter of time... In the meantime, here's an excerpt from the first chapter of his second novel, The Queen of the Night. This panel is basically your chance to finally know what Roxane Gay and Alexander Chee talk about when they hang out in your literary celebrity dreams.
California Dreams: A Tribute to Kevin Starr
Sunday April 23, 2017 10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
No other writer has ever or will ever write about California the way Kevin Starr did. The former state librarian, who died in January, spent decades completing a multi-volume history that is widely considered to be the definitive account of the California story. Fellow California historian William Deverell will moderate a conversation on Starr's legacy with MacArthur Genius grant winner Josh Kun, media professor Tara McPherson and American Studies and Ethnicity professor Nayan Shah.
Jessica Koslow Cooking Demonstration
Sunday April 23, 2017 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Jessica Koslow, Sqirl mastermind and author of the cookbook Everything I Want to Eat, will do some sort of cooking demo. What more do you need to know?
Nonfiction: The Culture of Southern California
Sunday April 23, 2017 3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.
L.A. Times culture writer Carolina A. Miranda is arguably the coolest person in L.A. (just take a look at her columns) and OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano ( ¡Ask a Mexican! and Taco USA) is definitely the coolest person in Orange County. Josh Kun (see the Kevin Starr panel) is a literal Genius with a MacArthur capital "G", as well as a brilliant cultural historian operating at the intersection of food, music, and cross-border exchange. David Ulin (see the Storytellers panel above) needs no introduction, but I will still remind you that he knows every single thing there is to know about Los Angeles literature, and also edited the two greatest L.A. literary anthologies, Another City and Writing Los Angeles. This panel is my dream dinner party. This panel is everyone's dream dinner party. See you there.