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Some Storied Expectations

Authors are looking forward to the Festival of Books to meet fans, promote literacy and make an impact.

April 23, 1998|LAURIE K. SCHENDEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Even if you're not an avid reader, the atmosphere around the UCLA campus this weekend may make you wish you were. The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books returns for its third year to the Westwood campus, featuring about 350 exhibitors and four stages for entertainment.

Although 100,000 people are expected to flock around the booksellers, signers and storytellers, among those most anticipating the whole affair are the authors themselves. Coming face to face with swarms of children and adults who appreciate the art of writing is heady stuff, even for a best-selling writer.

"Writing is so inherently isolating," said East Coast author Cari Beauchamp, who attended the festival last year. "After years of working and wondering if anyone will even care, I spent an entire day feeling valued."

On Sunday, Beauchamp, author of "Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood," is scheduled to participate in the Glamour Days: Old Hollywood panel. She's especially excited, she said, because she's been corresponding with fellow panel members Richard DeMille and Gavin Lambert for years but has never actually met them.

Clive Barker, who recently emerged from self-imposed solitary confinement after finishing his latest book, "Galilee," also welcomes the chance to converse with readers and other writers.

"I just finished 14 months of really not talking to anybody," said the fantasy-horror fiction writer. "It's important for me to do this [festival], to draw parallels and express my opinions with other writers as well as hear their opinions on the issues of the day."

Bebe Moore Campbell, whose "Singing in the Comeback Choir" is a bestseller and whose earlier book, "Your Blues Ain't Like Mine," won the NAACP Image Award for literature, said she hopes to find inspiration at the Festival of Books.

"I want to have a good time and listen to other authors, I want to leave here and be inspired to do what I do in a better way."

Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, author of "A Woman of Independent Means" and "Home Free," believes that the festival puts writers in a unique position, allowing them to "come togetherin a community of readers and writers." Hailey will moderate the panel A Woman's Story: Female Voices in Fiction, which includes authors Olivia Goldsmith ("The First Wives Club"), Whitney Otto ("How to Make an American Quilt"), Elizabeth Berg ("The Pull of the Moons") and Amy Ephron ("A Cup of Tea"), convening Saturday at 3 p.m. Offering a hint of the territory her panel will cover, Hailey said her own foray into fiction with "A Woman of Independent Means" 20 years ago was a timely one.

"I feel strongly that I was lucky to have come of age at a time when women were beginning to find their voice. . . . Women were expressing all kinds of things they had not dared to say out loud and finding their own lives fiction-worthy too."

Preeminent author Sidney Sheldon said he has only one reason for attending the festival--to support literacy. He said the Festival of Books is his first book festival and that he even postponed his yearly trip to Europe to attend.

"There are 30 million adults who cannot read or write," said Sheldon, a former spokesman for the National Coalition for Literacy. "I think it's shocking."

Sheldon, scheduled to speak in Collins Court at 10 a.m. Saturday, doesn't have a set topic because, he explained, with such an important issue, "there's so much to talk about."

"I really think the foundation of the future of this country depends on this, and that's why I'm so in favor of this festival," Sheldon said. "I wish every big city would have one. We've got to encourage people to read."

The Festival of Books was always intended as a family and community happening that would promote literacy. From its debut in 1996, the event became a "celebration" of books in every sense of the word. Organizers expected about 25,000 people the first year; 75,000 showed up.

"It's the kind of event that people feel really good about," said Narda Zacchino, festival co-chairperson and associate editor at the Los Angeles Times. "The people who come feel good about it and so do the exhibitors and sponsors. And we at the L.A. Times feel good, because it's celebrating the written word."

Even Ticketmaster has something to feel good about. While admission is free, the demand for seats to the author panels made it necessary to require tickets. Free tickets are available through Ticketmaster through today and, because CEO Fred Rosen is a "passionate believer" in the festival, Zacchino said, he waived the service charge. Some tickets will also be available at the door.

"The first year for this festival was a huge leap of faith," said Zacchino, who recalled that the biggest obstacle was finding enough people who believed that Los Angeles could pull off such an event. Even some of the exhibitors were skeptical, postdating their booth rental checks for after the festival.

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