Despite having to compete for the attention of Los Angelenos on a weekend that offered other popular large events - CicLAvia, which made miles of city streets vehicle-free for bicyclists; the women’s national gymnastics competition; and the Toyota Grand Prix – the 18th Los Angeles Times Festival of Books prevailed on April 20 and 21 with its offerings of literary panels and authors, hundreds of publisher and bookseller exhibitors, live music, and exuberant children’s programming.
As usual, the festival was heavy on star power. Carol Burnett, Molly Ringwald, and Paul Anka were among the Hollywood celebrities on hand to discuss their new books and meet with fans. On a more literary note, Margaret Atwood, who was awarded the Innovator’s Prize on Friday night at the Times Book Prizes ceremony, and historian Kevin Starr, who the Times honored with the Robert Kirsch Award, were interviewed individually to audiences packed with attendees.
Prospect Park Books exhibited for the first time in four years. “Book sales were fine,” said publisher Colleen Bates while packing up her booth. “For a publisher it’s not about book sales at the festival, it’s about being part of the literary community in Los Angeles. We had media exposure, we connected with our colleagues, and spent time with our authors. It was exhausting and sometimes challenging, but overall I’m glad we did it. We’ll be here next year.”
Although it’s too soon to have accurate numbers, attendance did seem lower this year, the third time the event has been held on the USC campus after leaving UCLA. Some booksellers and book reps commented that the recent violence in Boston might have kept people away, and the increased police presence at the festival was apparent to many.
The other Times Book Prizes were presented to Robert A. Caro in biography for The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Knopf); Katherine Boo in current events for Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House); Ben Fountain in fiction for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (HarperCollins Publishers / Ecco; Sammy Harkham in comics and graphic novels for Everything Together: Collected Stories (PictureBox); Fergus M. Bordewich in history for America’s Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union (Simon & Schuster; Tana French in mystery for Broken Harbor (Viking); Louise Glück in poetry for Poems 1962-2012 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); and Florence Williams in science and technology for Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History (W.W. Norton & Company).
Maggie Shipstead won the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction for Seating Arrangements (Knopf), and the young adult literature prize went to A.S. King for Ask the Passengers (Little, Brown Books For Young Readers).