Los Angeles Festival of Books Features Several UCI Professors

Hundreds of authors gathered at UCLA last weekend for the 15th annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The free and public festival has been held on UCLA’s campus since its inception in 1996 and features events such as discussion panels with authors and concerts for children.

The two-day event is seen as a celebration of the written word and an opportunity for the public to engage with various journalists and authors.

Among the distinguished authors gathered at the event were several UCI professors, including Barry Siegel, Miles Corwin, Amy Wilentz, Jack Miles, Jeffrey Wasserstrom and Henry Weinstein.

Siegel, who is head of the Literary Journalism program, spoke on a panel on Saturday with authors Dave Cullen and Rick Wartzman about his latest book, “Claim of Privilege.” The book, which was released in 2009, reconstructed a fifty-year-old plane crash, the court case that followed it and the half-century-old error that was finally uncovered in 2000.

“I was always very conscious of the fact of how wrong we could be from the start,” Siegel said as he explained his writing and research process.

Cullen, who spoke at UCI on April 22, also shared insight on “Columbine,” his non-fiction book about the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Both Cullen and Siegel, along with Wartzman and panel moderator Hector Tobar, agreed that the most important element of writing long-form narrative non-fiction was time, which is essential to understanding context.

Also on Saturday was a panel on Haiti featuring Amy Wilentz, professor of Literary Journalism and English. Wilentz’s first work, “The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier,” was published in 1989 and was recently reissued with a new introduction written after the January earthquake. Wilentz, who reported for Time Magazine from Haiti after the earthquake, compared the post-quake scene to an American military occupation.

The panel included authors Mark Danner and Rebecca Solnit and was moderated by Davan Maharaj, managing editor of the Los Angeles Times. Maharaj described Haiti’s current condition as one of a “perpetual state of limbo.”

Despite the talk about the scenes of disaster and chaos, Wilentz said that she is forcing herself to be hopeful that the country can rebuild.

“If you don’t work and hope for a better future, then you’re left with nothing,” Wilentz said. “This is a moment where change is possible.”

As the publishing industry continues to change, the Festival of Books stands as a testament to the power of the printed word. The festival concluded on Sunday, April 25 after drawing in a crowd of over 100,000 people.