White tents lined McCarthy Quad, Childs Way, Trousdale Parkway and various other locations on campus over the weekend. The two-day Los Angeles Times Festival of Books drew over 10,000 locals and visitors as they gathered to listen to authors, artists and scholars present their work.
Sponsored by major companies such as Acura, Kind, 5-Hour Energy and C-Span, the festival had an early start on Friday with 37th annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes in Bovard Auditorium hosted by stand-up comedian Tig Notaro. Book winners included Secondhand Time: the Last of the Soviets for “Current Interest,” Imagine Me Gone for “Fiction” and The Nix for “Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction,” among other winners and honorable mentions. The Trojan Marching Band officially kicked off Saturday festivities with an opening performance.
Some notable speakers included celebrity chef Ayesha Curry, retired basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, author Margaret Atwood, author Michael Connelly, author Viet Thanh Nguyen and California Institute of Technology professor Sean Carroll, among others.
Panels were held in nine different locations and went from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Following author panels were book signings for the audience to get a few moments of facetime with the author of their choice. In addition, local bookstores and organizations also set up shop in booths lining student pathways, advertising everything from books and stationery to meditation CDs and nonprofit goals.
This year, as a way to advertise for Hulu’s newest TV series adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, actors in handmaid costumes walked among the festival visitors. These actors wore long, red dresses and white bonnets, passing out temporary tattoos with the saying “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” which is repeated throughout Atwood’s novel.
Journalist Mary McNamara moderated the panel with Atwood, and TV producer Bruce Miller discussed their collaboration over the Hulu series as well as differences between the book and the TV series. Discussing filming choices, Miller talked about the symbolism of the head bonnets and their ability to hide emotional expression as well as give off an air of mystery and conservatism.
Atwood described her choices in writing the novel: Notably, her choice of sartorial requirements for her characters reflected each color’s symbolism in the Bible (blue represented the Virgin Mary, whereas red represented Mary Magdalene). They gave important insight on some deeper meanings and motifs presented in both the novel and the series.
USC professors also had their own time in the spotlight at the Festival of Books. Viet Thanh Nguyen, a professor in American studies and ethnicity, held a conversation with author and critic Laila Lalami about their respective books. Attendees crowded in the hallways of Seeley G. Mudd to hear Nguyen discuss his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Sympathizer. Josh Kun, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, engaged in a four-person panel about non-fiction and the establishment of Angeleno culture.
Visitors of all ages were able to participate in the Festival of Books, with various booths and even a children’s stage dedicated to engaging young readers. Participants also had the opportunity to engage in Festival After Dark, a series of activities that take place after festival hours. This year’s programming included Spring Awakening, a student production hosted by USC School of Dramatic Arts, as well as Book Drop Bash, a book swap hosted by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles.
Beyond booths and vendors, various musical acts also performed on stage, including several USC students. Artists painted murals near Wallis Annenberg Hall, Bai and KIND handed out free beverages and snacks and the Keck School of Medicine gave free health screenings. Visitors were welcomed by a courtyard full of food trucks in the parking lot behind Grace Ford Salvatori Hall, and first-timers and veterans alike were greeted by a bustle of activity that permeated throughout the USC campus.