In the spirit of ideas, which the festival clearly brings to Southern California, we reached out to four people participating in the festival to get their views on the joys and challenges of being L.A. writers. Under the banner "To Live and Write in L.A." Tod Goldberg, Janet Fitch, Robert Crais and Leo Braudy didn't let us down.
Goldberg's piece opens our coverage in Sunday Arts & Books with his perspective of first seeing the city as a 9-year-old coming over the Grapevine with his older brother.
Fitch observes that the very act of writing about the city is, in fact, an act of creating the city and offering a chance to open people's eyes to a world they may not normally see.
Suspense writer Crais sees the city and its more than 114 separate neighborhoods as a veritable gold mine of story telling opportunities.
Braudy relates his personal history of growing up in Philadelphia and coming to the Southland under the misconception that the area has no real history to speak of and learning that L.A.'s fictional image often overshadows its real story. All excellent, glorious works on a weekend when we celebrate ideas and the written word.
David Ulin's contribution to the conversation is a finely observed critic's notebook on the literary legacy of the riots after the verdict in the Rodney King beating case 20 years ago. Ulin summons up a very short list of excellent works on the riots (including Lynell George's extraordinary essay "Waiting for the Rainbow Sign," which we print online with Ulin's piece) but observes that "the shelf of books addressing the disaster is threadbare, conditional even, as if we've never figured out how to write about these events." The why of that makes for a profound read.
Jesmyn Ward is no stranger to civic disaster. She was coming out of a subway in New York as the World Trade Center was crumbling on Sept. 11, 2001. DeLisle, her hometown on the Mississippi coast, was battered by Hurricane Katrina. And she struggled to keep herself together so she could write. And write she can, as the National Book Award jury noted last year when it gave Ward its fiction prize for "Salvage the Bones," a novel about a poor African American family in Mississippi who are right in the path of Katrina. Carolyn Kellogg talked to Ward, who is participating in the festival, and got the full story of what draws her back to DeLisle time and again.