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Latino Book & Family Festival

Clink Glasses With Your Literary Idol

This event builds bridges between authors and the readers, artists and communities they serve.

In Spanish | When you think of actor Edward James Olmos's most important roles, what's the first thing that comes to mind? If you said Battlestar Galactica, Miami Vice or Stand and Deliver, I'm right there with you. No one does a cocked-brow, stoic stance better.

But his longest-running role is one you may not yet have heard about. For more than a decade, Olmos has quietly been touching thousands of lives (including my own) as cofounder and coproducer — alongside his publishing industry friend Jim Sullivan — of the Latino Book & Family Festival.

Initially, the actor and community activist pledged to throw his support behind the nascent literacy effort for just five years. But 13 years later, he's still on board. "I'm happy to now affirm a lifetime commitment to the festival," he says. And to its cause: promoting reading as a means of improving lives, both professionally and personally.

"I'm happy to now affirm a lifetime commitment to the festival and to its cause: promoting reading as a means of improving lives, both professionally and personally." — Edward James Olmos

More than three quarters of a million book lovers have supported that cause — passing through the festival's gates in cities from Chicago to Houston — since the event's inception in 1997. This year's October 9-10 festival at California State University, Los Angeles promises to be the mero mero of them all.

What should you expect? First, the event is free and open to the public. But be warned: There's more going on here than you can shake one of the food court's churros at, so scan the online schedule and plan accordingly. With more than 125 writers in attendance (myself included), this is your chance to rub elbows with some of your favorite authors and discover new ones. And there's variety. Both newly discovered and famous authors will speak at more than 40 presentations ranging from poetry to fiction to journalism and the business of publishing.

Latino Books & Family Festival

— Justin Hutchinson/Getty Images

In addition to all things literary, the festival will also present artists, musicians, dancers, clowns and other performers on the main stage, with storytelling and arts and crafts in the children's area. And with some 100 exhibitors, you'll be sure to fill your festival tote bag (free of course) with all sorts of goodies.

Want to clink glasses with your literary idol? Then consider attending the special dinner reception, Evening with the Authors.

A festival of this magnitude didn't, of course, happen overnight. Making a once-modest dream of a Hollywood actor and other concerned local Latinos into a reality required community support and the on-the-ground efforts of individuals like award-winning novelist Reyna Grande, who has volunteered countless hours to organize this year's event.

"For me, one of the goals is to have more interaction between authors, artists and the community," says Grande. "This will serve to enrich and empower the Latino community and inspire young people, while giving a permanent home to authors and artists."

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