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Preview: LA Times Festival of Books to include celebrities, TV chefs and musicians

The Festival of Books returns to USC on April 20 and 21.
The Festival of Books returns to USC on April 20 and 21.

The upcoming L.A. Times Festival of Books at USC brings more than just literature to the South Los Angeles campus.

On April 20 and 21, the annual event will include medical screenings, live music, comedy and films in addition to the array of expected bookish activities.

Last year's weekend festival attracted more than 150,000 people and featured guests including Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold, and basketball great-turned-author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

This year, in addition to the long list of indoor panels and conversations, the outdoor performance stages run the gamut of popular interests.  From toddlers to teens, poets and aspiring chefs, here are some highlights from the upcoming festival—with a little something for everyone.

For the kiddos: Lucy Dahl—the daughter of acclaimed writer Roald Dahl—will be on the children's stage on Saturday at 3 p.m. to bring her father's Matilda to life. Popular kids music maker Genevieve will perform at the festival at 10 a.m. and 4:35 p.m. along with Disney Junior's Choo-Choo Soul. Also playing the children's stage is musician Lisa Loeb, of "Stay" fame

The beat goes on: There will be multiple live band performances this year, including the USC Stage's lineup of the Trojan marching band and a capella groups. The Pop and Hiss Stage, named after the L.A. Times music blog, will feature a few bluesy groups, some acoustic sessions and a little good ol' fashioned rock 'n' roll.

A teen's/tween's dream: If your teen is not yet migrating over to the hip Pop and Hiss stage, they may want to check out the Young Adult Stage that features panels of age-appropriate authors and topics. Sessions cover young adult fiction, middle school fiction and graphic novels, and revolve around such topics as "Modern Cinderella Stories" and "Guffaws and Giggles."

Cooking 101: An array of TV chefs and cookbook authors will host cooking demonstrations during the festival. Alex Guarnaschelli, a Food Network regular perhaps best known for her role as a judge on "Chopped," will be in the hot seat herself at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Susan Feniger of L.A.'s Street restaurant will also take the stage next weekend. At 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, she'll whip up a dish from her cookbook of street foods from around the world. 

Celebrity sightings: The L.A. Times stage will host big names during the festival slated to discuss their autobiographies or other forays into the literary world. Included are Molly Ringwald—whose career spans decades and genres including acting and music—and TV actress Valerie Harper—who played Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and who's attracted much attention recently as she battles terminal brain cancer.

The festival will also include a poetry stage, the bilingual Hoy stage and intimate interviews at the L.A. Times booth.  

For Festival of Books aficionados, the real attraction comes with the "Conversations" that take place indoors at classrooms throughout the campus. With themes as varied as the changing middle east and personal health, sessions typically last about one and a half hours and include a moderator and a panel of authors.

Admission to the book festival is free, as is admission to conversations and lectures—but these often fill up quickly, so organizers suggest buying a $30 festival pass that gives you first dibs at tickets. On sale now, the package allows you to reserve tickets for eight different conversations before they're released to the general public on April 14.

The $30 purchase also includes a commemorative poster, entry to the L.A. Times "Book Prizes" ceremony, and a chance to buy valet parking for the book fest.

This will be the 18th year for the Festival of Books. For the first 15 years, it was held across town at UCLA but moved east to USC in 2011.