Spanish-language literary festival back in L.A. after year's hiatus

LéaLA will showcase Spanish-language authors during three days of readings, talks, theater and more

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 May 15-17 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 Spanish-speaking 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 Spanish-language 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 brick-and-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 Jaime-Becerra, 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."



Where: Los Angeles Convention Center, 1201 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles

When: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Sunday


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