• Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

Writers, readers wrestle with tough subjects at L.A. Times Festival of Books

Writers, readers wrestle with tough subjects at L.A. Times Festival of Books


Writer Jennifer Baker, sitting in front of a crowd of dozens of book lovers, started the morning off with a joke: She wasn’t properly caffeinated at 10 a.m.

The author and host of the “Minorities in Publishing” podcast then took on a more serious tone as she launched into a discussion about her 2023 novel “Forgive me Not.” Baker talked about how she attempted to incorporate issues of racism and other biases, while telling the story of a Black teenager’s journey through the juvenile justice system after she drove drunk and caused an accident that killed her younger sister.

The story of the book’s 15-year-old protagonist, Letta, is about judgment both in and out of the courtroom. In Baker’s novel, Letta’s own family, rather than a judge, must determine her sentence. Baker said the book raises questions about a variety of issues, including racism and how justice is applied.

“The aim is to do so subtly, so you are focusing on the dynamics of a family and can really come to your own kind of critical thinking through that way,” she told the audience gathered Saturday on the USC campus for the 2024 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which runs through Sunday. The 44th Los Angeles Times Book Prizes were announced at a ceremony at USC’s Bovard Auditorium on Friday night.

Panelists Sharon Levin, Kim Johnson, Paula Yoo, and Jennifer Baker speak

Panelists Sharon Levin, Kim Johnson, Paula Yoo and Jennifer Baker participate in a discussion titled “Do the Right Thing: Social Justice and Dystopias in Young Adult Fiction” at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

Baker joined other writers in an hour-long discussion titled “Do the Right Thing: Social Justice and Dystopias in Young Adult Fiction.” Authors Paula Yoo and Kim Johnson also talked about how they write about race, bias and criminal justice.

Johnson said young people have complex lives and face many of the same issues as adults, but that reality often does not get reflected into literature, turning them off to some books.

Her book “Invisible Son” is billed as a “social justice thriller” about a Black teenager, Andre, living in a gentrifying Portland, Ore., neighborhood just as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down school, who is wrongfully arrested as he attempts to find the missing brother of his longtime crush.

“It’s set in the early months of the pandemic,” Johnson said. “Young people … are experiencing all of these things and they want love and they want to have fun.”

The panel discussion was one of many scheduled over the popular two-day festival, which will feature such authors as T.C. Boyle, Chelsea Clinton, Cory Doctorow, Roxane Gay, Don Winslow and more. Attendees can also purchase books and listen to live music.

People sign what books they are reading during the LA Times Book Festival.

People sign what books they are reading during the Los Angeles Festival of Books, which runs through Sunday.

(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

“To be surrounded by books, I just think it’s fun,” said Kathy Becerra, a 25-year-old Whittier resident who attended Saturday’s event. “It just feels like home.”

The Times’ book festival is the largest literary event in the United States, frequently drawing 155,000 people over two days. This year, there are more than 200 events featuring more than 550 participants, including authors, experts and more.

Rupaul laughs while speaking to a large audience to discuss his memoir.

Rupaul discuss his memoir, “The House of Hidden Meanings,” during the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

On Saturday, among the star participants were the queen of drag RuPaul, actress Kerry Washington and California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta. Talks were held on topics as diverse as science writing, the 2024 election and romance novels.

On Sunday, comedian, actress and author Tiffany Haddish is scheduled to speak with Times assistant managing editor Angel Jennings, and renowned chef Nancy Silverton will give a cooking demonstration.

Robert Watt is a frequent attendee of the L.A. Times book festival. In the 1970s, he became the first African American French hornist hired by a major U.S. symphony when he joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Watt, who recently published a book about the experiences of African American symphony players, listened to the discussion on social justice in young adult novels.

“People need to read to understand and find out these things,” he said.



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