As a novelist who’s lived in the Pasadena area for the past 30 years, Jervey Tervalon had long enjoyed the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Yet he felt it was too “corporate-driven” and focused on authors from far beyond the LA area, so he decided to create a book fest that placed the emphasis on writers and the thriving literary scene he felt right near his backyard.
The result was LitFest Pasadena, and the sixth annual edition hits town this weekend with a bustling schedule of events that has grown to encompass two full days of panels and readings with an impressive array of guest participants. A key player in that expansion has been the addition of West Hollywood Book Festival founder Rosalind Helfand as LitFest’s director, but Tervalon feels that they have managed to maintain the right balance amid their growth.
“A big inspiration was the Squaw Valley Writers Conference [in Northern California], where there was such community I could meet a famous writer like Richard Ford and he would offer to have his editor read my book,” explains Tervalon. “I wanted to create that vibe here in Pasadena because there are a lot of writers here, but the city is known for the Rose Parade and technology. We want to make it a destination for literature, and to be diverse in order to reflect the diverse population of the city as a whole.”
Saturday’s highlights include Pulitzer Prize-winning LA Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold leading a panel discussion on the life and legacy of Julia Child, the legendary chef and TV host who was a Pasadena native. Meanwhile, a celebrity guest lineup of actors including Tim Russ of “Star Trek: Voyager” fame will perform dramatic readings of top new sci-fi stories from around the world, and popular Pasadena-based crime novelist Denise Hamilton will discuss the impact of running on her craft amid the “Running Writers” panel.
Refugee writers who have settled in the area will lead the “Refugee America” discussion, focusing on how novels can explore the experiences of displaced people from around the world in these turbulent times. And in another example of the fest’s diversity, the “Cute Filipinos on a Saturday Afternoon” panel — named after a famous phrase from the Raymond Chandler novel “The Big Sleep” — will feature several writers from the LA area’s vibrant community of Filipino writers.
There are also plenty of poetry performances throughout the weekend, including the Red Hen Press Pasadena Poetry-palooza!, featuring local poets including Ron Koertge and Genevieve Kaplan sharing their work.
Sunday’s fest highlights include Snopes.com’s managing editor, Brooke Binkowski, discussing the “Hostile Environment Reporting for Young Female Journalists,” and Tervalon himself leading a group of African-American novelists discussing “Writing in the Times of Black Lives Matter.”
“The idea is to address how the era of Trump influences our writing and the culture of the US, in terms of racism but beyond that,” says Tervalon. “It’s a chance to voice our fears and how we’re confronting them and surviving it, but we’re also going to give the audience a lot of chances to share their feelings.”
Practical advice will also be featured Sunday, as literary agents B.J. Robbins and Betsy Amster take audience questions about getting published, and representatives of several area independent presses will discuss “The Ins and Outs of Indie Publishing.”
While most of the events will take place between 11:15 a.m. and 4:45 p.m., Saturday night will also feature readings of dark fiction in a variety of genres including noir, horror and science fiction in the “Shades & Shadows Reading Series” at the Pasadena Playhouse’s Friendship Room from 8 to 10 p.m. The south campus of the Art Center College of Design will host the annual “Expressing Feelings Through Art” exhibition, featuring LA County high school students’ art and written statements about the emotions expressed within, from 8 to 10 p.m. both nights. n
LitFest Pasadena takes place from 11 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at several stages throughout the Playhouse District. Admission is free. Visit litfestpasadena.org.