Fest for Span­ish­language lit is back

Af­ter a year’s hia­tus, the event re­turns with read­ings, pan­els and, of course, books.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Lilliam Rivera

LéaLA, the largest Span­ish-lan­guage lit­er­ary fes­ti­val in the United States, marks its re­turn to Los An­ge­les this week­end af­ter a year’s hia­tus. With more than 300 lit­er­ary im­prints rep­re­sented and over 90 book events from Fri­day through Sun­day at the Los An­ge­les Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, LéaLA will once again be at the fore­front of show­cas­ing Span­ish-lan­guage books through read­ings, panel dis­cus­sions, theater pro­duc­tions and more.

Founded in 2011 by the Uni­ver­sity of Guadala­jara Foun­da­tion as an ex­ten­sion, in part, of the Guadala­jara In­ter­na­tional Book Fair, LéaLA had steady an­nual growth through 2013, with more than 80,000 vis­it­ing the fair that year. How­ever, de­spite that suc­cess, the fes­ti­val’s founders were forced to cancel LéaLA last year af­ter they were un­able to se­cure the nec­es­sary gov­ern­ment fund­ing from Mex­ico.

“It was more than a fi­nan­cial prob­lem — it was a co­in­ci­dence that in Mex­ico at that time, the gov­ern­ment had changed. This hap­pened in Los An­ge­les as well with a new mayor,” says LéaLA Direc­tor Marisol Schulz Ma­naut. “We had to knock on doors all over again.”

Now bian­nual, the fair con­tin­ues to tar­get Span­ish­s­peak­ing Lati­nos and those want­ing to pass the lan­guage on to the next gen­er­a­tion, as well as Span­ish-lan­guage en­thu­si­asts, Schulz said.

Ex­pect to find di­verse read­ings from the likes of celebrity au­thor Chiquis Rivera, daugh­ter of the late Mex­i­can singer Jenni Rivera; poet lau­re­ate and chil­dren’s book au­thor Fran­cisco Hi­no­josa; and No­bel Peace Prize-nom­i­nated Ital­ian au­thor Clau­dio Ma­gris. LéaLA will also be hon­or­ing Mex­ico City at the event.

Car­men Boul­losa, au­thor of the 2013 novel “Texas” (short­listed for the 2015 PEN Amer­ica Trans­la­tion Prize) and co-au­thor of “A Narco His­tory: How the United States and Mex­ico Jointly

Cre­ated the ‘Mex­i­can Drug War,’ ” is a re­turn­ing par­tic­i­pant and has wit­nessed first­hand the growth of the fair.

“Both times I at­tended LéaLA, the fair was still work­ing on es­tab­lish­ing it­self. But now with Mex­ico City be­ing the hon­ored guest, I find it will be re­ally in­ter­est­ing,” says Boul­losa, a Mex­ico City na­tive, who will be on three pan­els. “On top of it be­ing re­ally fun, it’s also very im­por­tant. How will Mex­ico City be viewed in Los An­ge­les? It’s a chal­lenge. I wouldn’t want to miss it.”

With an ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign that fea­tures the slo­gan “Los Án­ge­les Leemos Jun­tos/An­gels Read To­gether,” out­reach con­sists of street teams can­vass­ing lo­cal fes­ti­vals, bill­boards and Span­ish-lan­guage me­dia.

It was thanks to a spe­cial in­vi­ta­tion by Schulz that Celene Navar­rete and Chiara Ar­royo found them­selves at LéaLA in 2011, des­per­ately search­ing for Span­ish-lan­guage books to show at their own chil­dren’s school book fairs in Santa Mon­ica. Af­ter con­nect­ing with Span­ish­language book pub­lish­ers at LéaLA, the two were soon set­ting up school book fairs through­out Cal­i­for­nia and na­tion­ally.

They are now part­nered with LéaLA, ar­rang­ing school tours to the site and ac­tively pro­mot­ing the event. The con­nec­tion also be­came an im­pe­tus for the two to open their first brickand-mor­tar book­store spe­cial­iz­ing in Span­ish-lan­guage chil­dren’s books. La Librería, on West Wash­ing­ton Boule­vard, opened in Fe­bru­ary.

“The peo­ple be­hind the event have the same goals — to have a big­ger show­case of books in Span­ish in the U.S.,” says Navar­rete. “There is a huge mo­men­tum here, a need for this, now with the rise of dual im­mer­sion pro­grams.”

For ma­jor U.S. pub­lish­ing houses like Ran­dom House and HarperCollins, the fes­ti­val is con­sid­ered an im­por­tant trade show. “We have Span­ish prod­ucts in other trade shows like BEA [BookExpo Amer­ica] and ALA [Amer­i­can Li­brary Assn.],” says Llu­via Agustin, HarperCollin’s direc­tor of Span­ish sales for U.S. mar­kets. “This one is the only fair that I know of that’s ex­clu­sively dis­play­ing Span­ish books in the U.S.”

HarperCollins is set to pro­mote a Span­ish edi­tion of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mock­ing­bird” there, along with Lee’s new novel, “Go Set a Watch­man,” which will be pub­lished si­mul­ta­ne­ously in Span­ish and English.

“The His­panic mar­ket in the U.S. is es­pe­cially com­plex, in that it con­sists of dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple from dif­fer­ent coun­tries of ori­gin, dis­tinct tastes and var­i­ous lev­els of ac­cul­tur­a­tion,” says Sil­via Ma­naut, pres­i­dent of Pen­guin Ran­dom House Grupo Ed­i­to­rial. “We try to reach our public in dif­fer­ent ways, but LéaLA has cre­ated a spe­cial frame­work in which we can learn about our read­ers.” César Lozano, Jen­nifer Cle­ment, Ly­dia Cacho and actress Giselle Blon­det are among the Pen­guin and Ran­dom House au­thors mak­ing ap­pear­ances at the fair.

For first-time at­tendee and nov­el­ist Michael JaimeBe­cerra, whose books aren’t avail­able in Span­ish edi­tions, LéaLA has a more per­sonal mean­ing. “Know­ing I have fam­ily in Mex­ico who would love to read my book but are un­able to read English, it’s def­i­nitely a long-term goal for me to have them trans­lated,” he says. “That’s part of why I’m re­ally happy to join the fair, be­cause this is drawing at­ten­tion to the im­por­tance of Span­ish lit­er­a­ture.”

Damian Do­var­ganes AP

CHIQUIS RIVERA is among the au­thors ex­pected at LéaLA fes­ti­val.

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