by Brian Dunlap
This past weekend as the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The book festival has brought Angeleño book lovers together for over 20 years. This year at USC, some local independent presses and independent bookstores had booths, from Rare Bird and Prospect Park Books, to Skylight and Once Upon A Time, which bills itself as “America’s oldest children’s bookstore.”
There were also panels featuring big named authors like Roxane Gay and Jonathan Lethem for interested attendees who wanted to hear their favorite authors talk about books, craft and the broader topics their work explores. One panel, featuring author-reporter Ben Ehrenreich, was called “Writing Across Genres: Humanizing Conflict.” Ehrenreich embedded himself in the West Bank for a year to write “The Way to Spring.”
This year’s two day festival was actually a disappointment. There didn’t seem to be as many booths or panels as in years past. Plus, highlighting diverse writers with panels discussing their issues and the themes and ideas they explore in their literature, much less highlighting the diversity and vibrancy of its own literary community, was nearly nonexistent. The festival did not reflecting the diversity that the city loves to celebrate. This, once again, shows that L.A. in general, does not understand how to depict who it really is or how to accurately promote itself. This is especially true of the festival’s main sponsor The L.A. Times, who, for decades, has basically ignored entire neighborhoods, such as Pico-Union, the neighborhood immediately to the west of their headquarters, in their coverage.
Yet, I was able to attend one of the few panels that highlighted writers of color, called “Listen Up New York: Latino Readers & Writers Have Something to Say.” Here, the three panelists Rigoberto Gonzalez, Ruebén Martinez, Adriana Ramirez, discussed the issue of the lack of representation of Latinx writers by the big five publishers and how they do or don’t understand them and their stories.
The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was still enjoyable, but hopefully next year it will be more inclusive.