Excitement abounds with in-person return

In addition to hosting more than 625 authors, 260 events and 250 exhibitors, the two-day literary festival will also feature eleven live music performances. (Photo courtesy of USC/Gus Ruelas)

Ahead of the 27th Los Angeles Times Festival of Books — the series’ first in-person event since 2019 — the mood in the organizers’ office is nothing short of electric. To staff, volunteers and speakers alike, the return to University Park Campus is the restoration of a prized tradition.

“Everyone is excited to be back in person, back doing this event that we love so much,” said L.A. Times associate director of events Ann Binney. “And I felt that very same excitement from the authors that we have.”

The annual celebration continued for the last two years as much smaller virtual events, restricted by technical limitations and a sense of detachment that became emblematic of the public’s struggles during the pandemic. That estrangement prompted uncertainty among organizers, who anticipated audience and artist anxiety over returning to an in-person event.

“When we started thinking about [the 2022 Festival] in the fall, I was worried,” Binney said. “[I thought], ‘What’s the response going to be? Are people going to be excited to come back in person and do this?’”

Rather than seeding hesitance or restricting attendance, Binney said the Festival’s decision to return in-person has been invigorating, especially for artists eager to connect. With more than 625 authors, 260 events and 250 exhibitors, the event’s grand scale is comparable to those in the past, and organizers predict a suitable turnout.

“We have an incredible roster of people who are coming to participate and there’s that same excitement from them — they want to see people in person, and have that experience together and sign books for people,” Binney said. “That experience is one that people have missed over the last couple of years and that people seem to be really excited to be doing again.”

Writers of all genres will be welcome at the event, sprinkled across campus in themed areas such as the Poetry or Cooking stages or in ticketed panels in various campus buildings. As they have for decades, organizers seek to include authors and exhibits revealing the depth and complexity of language.

The weekend’s festivities will also include a USC Stage on Hahn Plaza, where students and alumni will treat visitors to an array of musical performances. Student performances have been a hallmark of the Festival since it moved from UCLA in 2011 and have put forth a wealth of Trojan talent at the nation’s largest literary event.

Though organizers said they learned much from the challenges of remote Festivals, they are fully embracing the in-person return by opting to not provide virtual components this year. The organizers plan to follow Los Angeles County’s coronavirus safety protocols but are requiring indoor panel attendees to wear masks and encouraging masking in outdoor queues.

The pandemic has also prompted organizers to alter their selections. While the L.A. Times has been reviewing speakers and submissions since October, they have expanded their view to include works published during the pandemic. Still, organizers have maintained the same admiration for and prioritization of Angeleno artists that inspired the first Festival 26 years ago.

“[The Festival] was a gift to the city, a call to readers everywhere to bookmark the page and come gather with us,” wrote the Times’ executive editor Kevin Merida in their Festival of Books program. “[Virtual Festivals] gave us an opportunity to reflect … But we have missed the communal experience. We’re incredibly excited to be gathering in person again.”