I've attended nearly all of the previous 16 years of the annual Los Angeles Times books festivals, this one again on the campus of USC. There was that one year I missed, when the bibliochild was born and some friends, fellow writers and Santa Monica Review volunteers staffed the SMR booth, distributing free copies of the magazine. This year the whole family is here: my now nine-year-old little reader and his mother, the lovely literary wifey, sharing the newest volume with anybody who wants a copy, which features work by established and new writers. Among those in the spring 2012 issue are UCI creative writing alums Michelle Chihara and Benjamin T. Miller, and frequent contributor Rhoda Huffey (The Hallelujah Side).
And as if that weren't enough, the Bibliofella broadcasts a special live edition of Bibliocracy this morning from the KPFK booth (937), 10 a.m.-11 a.m. For the first segment of the show, I'll chat with activist and author Blase Bonpane, host of his own long-running public affairs program, World Focus. Last year, the ex-priest and human rights activist published his memoirs, the provocatively titled Imagine No Religion (Red Hen Press). Ha! Ironic and lovely title because he's the most spiritual dude you'll ever meet, a former Maryknoll father, a liberation theologist, founder with his bride Theresa of the Office of the Americas and famous, in Orange County of all places, for attacking in a pique of justified frustration, right-wing television host Wally George's desk!
If you don't know who George was–and, clearly, Bonpane didn't before agreeing to appear on the program–think John Birch Society meets World Wrestling Federation, with screaming Young Americans for Freedom-types in studio, and the permanently befuddled late huckster with the toupee eating it all up, all copied later by, yes, Jerry Springer and Glen Beck. George was perhaps the only person not persuaded by Bonpane, an anti-war crusader and ambassador of justice for the poor and victimized who, to his credit, murderized the desk and not the host.
Blase starts out slow, drops in with appeals to conscience, tells his own story of being, first, a Marine, then expelled from Guatemala by the generals. He moves on to the myth of the U.S. as some kind of benign or friendly neighbor, then just goes for it. I saw him do this once in front of the unlikeliest crowd, in a classroom at Irvine Valley College where, I swear, he had people singing along with him on the anti-war classic “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” and giving him a standing ovation for demanding right there, on a Friday night in conservative South County, and end to what Blase calls “the war system.” Just to be clear, he advocates the peace system. Go figure.
Naturally, there's more of the OC angle at the Festival beyond only the participation of your favorite OC Weekly books blogger and memories of Marxist insurrection and human solidarity. The heroic FBI-suing UC Irvine history professor Jon Wiener (Historians in Trouble) moderates a terrific panel on the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement with, yup, author-activist Tom Hayden himself, Abe Peck and heroic journalist Robert Scheer.
Gustavo Arellano is here at the Fest, talking up his new Taco USA, as if you haven't heard enough about that! And there's more of the UC Irvine crowd, too. Teacher and poet Michael Ryan reads from his newest, This Morning. MFA alums Ismet Prcic (Shards) is on a panel titled, mysteriously, “Fiction: Form and Function.” Izzy used to wear a mohawk at UCI, delighting all, by which I mean frightening many. He's kind of brilliant, if you didn't know. Leonard Chang (The Fruit 'N Food), another Anteater, does “Echoes of Korea,” hosted by Patt Morrison. Will super-writer and UCI grad Aimee Bender be here? Natch. And how about everybody's favorite novelist of OC manners (bad), Ms. Victoria “This Vacant Paradise” Patterson? Yup. Also Ramona Ausubel (No One is Here But All of Us) and Hector Tobar (The Barbarian Nurseries).
The amazing and lovely scholar, journalist, activist and novelist Amy Wilentz (The Rainy Season), who teaches at UCI, sits on a panel, “Narrating Disaster,” with Robert Scheer, and moderated by UCI's Nonfiction Program guru, Barry Siegel. Did you know that Scheer, who of course founded the landmark Ramparts magazine and now runs TruthDig.com, once lived in Seal Beach? Now you do. Right across the street from the Naval Weapons Station. It amuses me to think of the Navy's policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence of nukes with their neighbor being probably one of the most important investigative journalists in the country.
Speaking of the beach, here's a plug for the county's best children's bookstore, Irvine-based Whale of a Tale, which will also host a booth. Owner Alex Uhl and her staff will recommend smart books an point you in the direction of getting them signed.
Chapman professor and recent Bibliocracy guest Tom Zoellner is on the panel with my favorite name: “American Breakdown.” Alas, I don't think it's a Led Zeppelin tribute panel. But with another favorite political writer there, John Nichols (Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street), it will be excellent. Zoellner wrote the thoughtful and frustratingly humane A Safeway in Arizona, about the bizarre state where a gun-nut shot, well, you know.
Irvine writer Scott Martelle joins an all-star lineup to talk about his newest, Detroit: A Biography, on a panel called, ominously, “We Built This City.” There's poetry and celebrities and cooking and music and Culture Clash, too, and if you missed some of this yesterday and arrive late today, you can purchase CD recordings of most of the panels later. I'll try to get Blase to sing again this morning, so if you want to join him, here are the lyrics, written fifty years ago by Ed McCurdy:
Last night I had the strangest dream/I'd ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed/To put an end to war
I dreamed I saw a might room/Filled with women and men
And the paper they were signing said/They'd never fight again.
And when the paper was all signed/And a million copies made
They all joined hands and bowed their heads/And grateful prayers were prayed.
And the people in the streets below/Were dancing 'round and 'roundWhile swords and guns and uniforms/Were scattered on the ground.
Last night I had the strangest dream/I'd never dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed/To put an end to war.
Andrew Tonkovich hosts the Wednesday night literary arts program Bibliocracy Radio, on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.