Each spring, the Los Angeles Times hosts what it calls "the largest book festival in the country." This year the event included more than 900 groups plus hundreds of speakers who set up shop at the University of Southern California on April 21st and 22nd. Pacific Standard traveled to Los Angeles to take part. Like the city of L.A., the festival felt loose, so sprawled across the campus that many panels, even ones featuring high-profile writers like Claire Messud and Gabriel Tallent, unfolded with little fanfare—just some mild-mannered readers gathered in modest lines outside the engineering buildings.
Some writers well known to Pacific Standard readers appeared on panels during the festival, including Ijeoma Oluo, who spoke with us about her January book So You Want to Talk About Race; Luis Alberto Urrea, who wrote about Illinois for our Postcards From America project this March; Morgan Jerkins, who wrote on our website about finding support on Black Twitter that she couldn't get from predominantly white MFA programs; and Lauren Markham, who reported a deep feature on the girl gangs of El Salvador for our September/October 2017 issue.
The victory laps for these talented and successful authors felt well deserved. What stuck out was a glimmer of anxiety surrounding one of the festival's major audiences: What's to be done for the children? In the prominent children's section at the book fair, between booths where attendees could write their own short stories or tour a Dr. Seuss-themed bus, an exhibition entreated kids to learn "emotional banking"—a kind of practical approach to managing one's feelings. Elsewhere, I spied a booth for W. Hans Miller, the author of Soothing: Lives of a Child Psychologist, which concerns "the search for ways to soothe ourselves and others" out of psychic pain. Not too far away sat the self-proclaimed "terrorist therapist," Carole Lieberman, selling her book, Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! and promising to teach parents "How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror."
Even Junot Díaz, more or less the festival headliner, made appearances that focused on children. On Saturday afternoon, Díaz read from his illustrated children's book, Islandborn. The choice felt especially poignant coming just five days after the publication of his moving, difficult essay in The New Yorker about being raped at age eight, and how that abuse continually disrupted his life. Díaz made careful reference to those experiences during his talk on Sunday morning.
According to its organizers, the festival has always included a children's stage and related programming. But the notes on trauma felt timely amid the increased visibility, if not an actual increase, of mental-health problems among the young. A paper published last week found that significantly more parents reported an anxiety diagnosis for their children in 2012 than in 2007, reinforcing headlines from the past two years declaring a teen anxiety crisis.
But hints of crisis at the festival came with talk of at least partial resolution. Díaz's essay ends on a note of release and imperfect healing. During a panel about exploring different versions of family through fiction, the novelist and writer Rachel Khong recommended another work that documents how someone survived childhood trauma: Terese Marie Mailhot's memoir Heart Berries, published in February. Readers should look for Mailhot's powerful essay on enduring that trauma and going on to confront racism in academia in our forthcoming May issue, and available right now for our premium subscribers.
This dispatch originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive a print magazine subscription, early access to feature stories, and access to an ad-free version of PSmag.com.