In just three short years, LéaLA has become the largest Hispanic book fair in the U.S. Celebrated in Los Angeles, this book fair has a distinctly international flavor. Authors and publishers from the U.S., Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Spain, Guatemala, and Cuba participate in this three day festival of books.
LéaLA is an initiative backed by the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) and the University of Guadalajara in Los Angeles. The book fair seeks to promote not only books but also reading and Latino culture in general. Although FIL has a strong program for book publishing professionals, LéaLA is more focused on meeting the needs of consumers. With this goal in mind, Los Angeles was chosen because of the sheer number of Hispanics residing in Southern California. Based on the U.S. Census, in Southern California, the Hispanic population represents the largest ethnic group (40.57%) followed by White (38.85%), Asian (10.19%), and African American (7.30%).
LéaLA organizers anticipate close to 100,000 people over this three-day event, which is free to the public. Celebrated this year May 17–19 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, the fair will include over 150 authors, more than 100 publishers, and 204 booths. The children’s area alone will have more than 100 activities. Although LéaLA does not have a program for professionals, a few librarians and literary agents have been spotted at the fair in the past. “The success of the fair has only been possible with the overwhelming support we have received from publishers, authors, booksellers, distributors, and cultural organizations from Latin America and the U.S.,” says Marisol Schulz, director of LéaLA and recently appointed director of FIL.
This year’s program includes some of the most prestigious literary authors in the Spanish language. There is also an equally strong roster of nonfiction writers and a series of academic presentations. Some of the authors participating this year include the ex-Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Jorge Castañeda; Mexican novelists Beatriz Riva, Paco Ignacio, and Benito Taibo; winner of the Letras Nuevas (New Letters) award, Daniel Krauze; U.S. writer Maha Akhtar; bestselling children’s book authors, José-Luis Orozco and Francisco Hinojosa; Lorena Ochoa, Mexican professional golfer who was the top-ranked female golfer in the world for over three years; and internationally renowned motivational speaker, Dr. César Lozano. Although the book fair offers primarily book and author presentations in Spanish, a few Latino writers will present in English or conduct bilingual presentations. The complete program of the fair can be found on www.lea-la.com.
Some of the publishers and booksellers participating this year include Random House, Penguin, Arte Público Press, Lectorum, Planeta, Santillana, Fondo de Cultura Economica, SM, Urano, Roca Editorial, Grupo Nelson, and Bridge Publications, and the printer/distributor BookMasters. In addition to an extensive advertising campaign, over 40 media outlets from the U.S. and Mexico will cover the book fair.
With over 100 activities designed for children aged 3–12, the children’s area has seen the most growth in terms of space and activities. Many of this year’s workshops will focus on the role corn played in the Mayan and Inca culture and how it is produced and utilized today. There will also be a workshop by Mexican muralists, activities based on Ibero-American traditions and legends, and presentations that promote bilingualism.
Marking the one-year anniversary of the death of Carlos Fuentes, homage will be paid to the world-renowned Mexican novelist and essayist. With the participation of his widow, Silvia Lemus, the event will celebrate the life one of the most admired writers in the Spanish-speaking world and a man who always spoke in support of Latino immigrants in the U.S. A treasured figure in Los Angeles, Fuentes was himself humbled when a busboy at a restaurant or the valet driver at a hotel would recognize him and comment on his books.
Beloved Mexican-American singer-songwriter Jenni Rivera, who died in December, will be remembered during a special event at the fair. Rivera, known for her work within the banda and norteña music genres, was one of the few women to break into this male-dominated genre. Later this year, Simon & Schuster will release her autobiography and Penguin will publish a Rivera biography, written by Leila Cobo.
With 80% of attendees purchasing books at the fair in 2012, LéaLA has become an important point-of-sale event for booksellers. As Schulz points out, “We set out to establish a book fair to promote reading in Spanish and celebrate Latino culture, but we quickly realized that we were also filling a tremendous void in the Spanish-language book industry.”