A wet yet wonderful weekend as USC hosts the LA Times Festival of Books

The literary and cultural event’s music, film, art and health screenings don’t disappoint the thousands in attendance

April 11, 2016 Diane Krieger

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A little rain didn’t dampen the spirits of the estimated 160,000 Angelenos at USC this weekend for the 21st annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

As the literary extravaganza — now in its sixth year at USC — got underway, hundreds of Marvel Comics fans were already queued up through Alumni Park, waiting in the book-signing line to buy a copy of Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible, comic book pioneer Stan Lee’s memoir. Lee was one of the more than 600 authors reading, discussing and signing books at the two-day event. Other headliners included astronaut Buzz Aldrin, publisher and political pundit Arianna Huffington, Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein and best-selling young adult fiction author Ransom Riggs.

USC Senior Vice President for University Relations Thomas S. Sayles and Los Angeles Times editor-publisher Davan Maharaj opened the weekend’s activities from the USC Stage, facing the Trojan Shrine and backed by the USC Trojan Marching Band.

While it’s the nation’s largest public literary festival, the L.A. Times Festival of Books “is not just about celebrating great books,” Sayles said in his welcoming remarks Saturday morning. “Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world. So it is only fitting that this festival includes music, film, art and so much more.”

Activity across campus

At that moment by Waite Phillips Hall, artist Josh Everhorn was painting a large abstract plein-air mural on plywood.

In Argue Plaza, children were clambering up an enormous climbing tower.

USC’s irrepressible Tommy Trojan flashed the victory sign as he posed with youngsters for parents’ cellphone cameras. Three-year-old Sawyer Gonda of Studio City was talking excitedly about his future with the marching band.

“I’m going to play the tuba!” he announced. It was his and his 16-month-old sister Jemima’s first time at the festival, and it won’t be their last, said parents Mika and Eli Gonda, who hoped to stock up on bedtime stories.

Longtime festival aficionados Diane and Bruce Gale, of Irvine had come prepared with rolling luggage.

“So we can book-up,” Bruce Gale explained. “We’ll have bought eight or nine books by the end of the day.”

“This is much more fun than shopping on Amazon,” his wife added. “It’s nice to be in the company of other readers. We love the Festival of Books. We are so grateful to USC for doing this. It’s a big commitment.”

Over at the USC Communities Tent, administrator Lisa Gallegos was laying down floor mats to provide overflow seating for children attracted by the life-sized Clifford mascot. As the furry red hound helped with a read-aloud activity, USC Civic Engagement staff passed out free copies of the popular Scholastic children’s book, as well as a board-book version for preschoolers.

Meanwhile on the Hoy Stage, Wall Street executive-turned-immigration-activist Julissa Arce and actor Rafael Agustin described their experiences as undocumented high school seniors trying to get admitted to college. Arce’s forthcoming book, My (Underground) American Dream, relates how she hid her immigration status while rising to a vice presidency at Goldman Sachs.

Healthy readers

On Childs Way, festival-goers were getting free vision screenings in the USC Roski Eye Institute’s mobile screening van.

“We’re checking eye pressure, near vision and distance vision,” said Lernik Torossian, a clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology. She was one of three faculty members doing the eye exams, which also screened for infection, melanoma, glaucoma and optic nerve defects.

Nearby, more than a dozen white-coated students from the USC School of Pharmacy were checking people for diabetes, hypertension and measuring body fat levels. Some, like first-year student Tiffany Hwang, wore badges indicating they could speak Mandarin, Spanish, Farsi, Korean or Vietnamese.

“This is the biggest health fair we’ve done all year,” said Cynthia Lieu, associate professor of clinical pharmacy, who coordinated the 80 student volunteers and 20 professional pharmacist-preceptors supervising them. “I anticipate we’ll screen 400 to 500 individuals today,” she said.

Rain or shine

The drizzle didn’t seem to faze anyone. On the USC Stage, the Saved by Grace gospel choir rocked the festival with “Not About Us,” as the crowd kept time with bobbing umbrellas. Smiling bookworms weaved through vendor stalls in their raincoats.

Food trucks parked behind Grace Ford Salvatori Hall served up hearty fare like sushi burritos, Maine lobsters and Korean wings and sliders.

On the Acura Cooking Stage in the Epstein Family Plaza, celebrity baker Duff Goldman was flipping handmade pitas into the oven while chatting with an appreciative audience.

Dog day afternoon

Sonia Pineda ’04, pushing an empty stroller, perhaps best captured the atmosphere. Walking alongside the Los Feliz resident were her two Chihuahuas, decked out in festive rain-gear. Zoe had donned a puffy pink parka, while Grumpy wore his blue-and-orange vest over a green-and-yellow-checkered shirt.

“We come every year,” said the Kaiser Permanente nurse and proud USC alumna. Last year, the dogs had worn Trojan gear. This year they were dressed for El Niño.

Pineda was on the lookout for canine-themed bedtime stories. “They enjoy books about dogs,” she said.

How can she tell if they really like a book?

“Zoe wags her tail harder.”