Representatives from the Los Angeles Times and USC gathered virtually Sunday to kick off the L.A. Times Festival of Books. This Festival of Books event was the first of a four-week-long line-up which included author panels, readings and other events in celebration of books.
The Festival of Books Kickoff was moderated by Patt Morrison, a Pulitzer-sharing L.A. Times columnist and author, who led the audience to reminiscence on previous events and explore the legacy the festival has created in its 25 years. The event also included exuberant testimonies from past attendees and a panel with Chris Argentieri, the president and COO of the Times, and USC President Carol Folt on civic engagement, collaboration and literacy.
The festival kickoff began with video clips from past events on the USC campus, showing families and friends reading books and enjoying festivities. The video clips also included highlights of past author visits including Gabrielle Union, Leslie Odom Jr., Jenna Fischer, Moby, Patton Oswalt and Glory Edim.
“Each year, 150,000 Angelenos from grandkids to grandparents and the grandest names in literature gather,” Morrison said. “They come here for vital, meaningful conversations, discussions, for a big swapmeet of ideas and debate drawn from the books that inspired them.”
The kickoff also took a moment to reminiscence on some of the most memorable author-participant interactions over the years: Ray Bradbury’s appearance in 1997, where he stayed to sign every single book of those eagerly waiting in line to meet him; Levar Burton’s visit to the festival in 2015, where he received a standing ovation from the audience before he even spoke a word; Rodney King’s appearance in 2012, where 400 people waited in anticipation to hear from him.
“This event has been and always will be about giving readers the chance to know the world in great and even startling detail through the eyes and the words of the frontline experts, the storytellers and the poets,” Morrision said.
Following the reminiscent conversations of the past, Morrison gathered with Folt and Argentieri to discuss the current relationship that the Times and USC have with each other and their respective communities and how it benefits the Festival of Books.
“In terms of the festival and the partnership with USC, it’s really a critical part of our community engagement, both at the Times and the festival itself,” Argentieri said. “The partnership with USC has done a number of things for the festival, no question that it’s helped in terms of the programming. We’ve been able to expand the types of authors and the diversity of those, so that’s been great in enhancing the programming.”
Morrison said that both USC and the Times are vital intellectual and cultural fixtures, and the Festival of Books is about combining these two institutions to bring the community together.
“The Festival plays a big role because it brings on the big stage wonderful people who are writers,” Folt said. “It can get young readers and older readers excited. It also allows us to help with some of our other neighborhood initiatives, like our neighborhood academic initiative, where we are working very hard to get kids from local schools to get training, learning, reading and literacy throughout high school and then go on to university.”
Folt also said various studies have shown the relationship between literacy and success for students, and she wants USC to support students’ education and encourage parents to read to their children. She said that since the Festival of Books encourages group and parent readings, it is a practice of togetherness.
“We are living in a city that has a school district, and while things are improving and graduation rates improve, we’re still graduating students here in L.A. with less than half of those students meeting state standards in the language arts,” Agentieri said. “To improve on literacy takes institutions, both private and public.”
The event proceeded with testimonials from children ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, all inspired by initiatives USC placed within their schools. Although they were no longer in class, the school-aged children were able to complete multiple stories, as USC delivered more than 4,000 books to their family of 15 schools located near the university.
Not straying from the traditional closing of the kickoff, the Festival of Books concluded with USC’s marching band’s uplifting rendition of “Fight On.”
Morrison said that over the next four weeks in four different events, attendees will have a chance to virtually meet former Gov. Jerry Brown, “Crazy Rich Asians” author Kevin Kwan, Ray Bradbury Prize winner Marlon James, Pulitzer Prize winner Marilyn Robinson and many more guests.