Walking L.A. (Diversion)


This may seem provincial of me since I went to UCLA as an undergraduate and now teach there, but it’s a beautiful campus on nearly 500 acres. The campus is so large that it’s easy to miss whole sections, so I’d suggest that when you park your car (there are lots that surround the campus; it costs $8 for all day) ask for a map at one of the parking kiosks. UCLA has some interesting classical and modern architecture, a number of large fountains, a sculpture garden that rivals the L.A. County Museum’s, and a book festival the last weekend in April that has no equal on any other campus in America.  The festival, organized by the L.A. Times and UCLA, started eleven years ago and has averaged over 130,000 people each year. 400 authors speak on nearly 100 panels that range from politics to children’s literature.  Major writers like Ray Bradbury, Joyce Carol Oates, Elmore Leonard, T.C. Boyle, Joan Didion and Gore Vidal are interviewed for an hour in front of audiences that hold 2,500 people. There are six outdoor stages that feature poetry readings, children’s storytelling, dance and cooking demonstrations. And over 350 exhibitor booths where you can buy books you’ll never see sold at big chain bookstores, see clever computer products or board games dealing with First Editions or other literary subjects, and get books signed by famous writers throughout the weekend. There’s plenty of food stalls, large expanses of grass to sit on, exhibits to see inside Powell Memorial Library, and a great feeling of comfort that we still live in a literate society.  What’s so amazing about this festival is that it makes writers and publishers accessible. And it’s done on a wonderful campus.

Even if you can’t make it to L.A. on that particular April weekend, UCLA is still worthy of being included in this walking tour. Start at the famous sculpture gardens located in the northern section of the campus, off Hilgard Ave, below Sunset Blvd. Check out the works of Henry Moore, Jean  Arp, Barbra Hepworth and Robert Graham, among many others. Then head south towards the center of campus, enjoying the architecture of Royce Hall and the Powell Library. Head down Bruin Walk to the castle-like Kerchkoff Hall, and keep walking to Ackerman Student Union, where you can buy souvenirs, books, and eat at a variety of food stalls. In front of the student union is Pauley Pavilion where the UCLA Bruins play basketball and next to it is the sports museum.

I put on a walking odometer at the last book festival and found that I walked over six miles in one day, and that’s without going all over campus. What’s also nice about walking around UCLA is seeing so many young, fresh, smart faces. You need better than a 4.0 average to get admitted and more high school seniors apply to UCLA than any other campus in America. So move over, Ivy Leaguers, and take a look at some of our best and brightest wearing T-shirts and flip-flops all year round.

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