Gi Hallmark | The Children’s Book Review | November 20, 2014
The heart of Young Adult Fiction descended into picturesque Charleston, SC on November 7, 2014 as 60 Young Adult authors, including 37 New York Times bestsellers, joined together for the 4th Annual Charleston Young Adult Book Festival (“YALLFest”). YALLFest is the largest and only author run YA festival in the United States, and presumably, the world-as duly noted by Pseudonymous Bosch (The Secret Series) in his introduction to the “Middle Grade Truth or Dare” panel. These authors participated in a bevy of free events including twenty candid, introspective panels, countless signings and the notorious end of festival smackdown and rock concert, making YALLFest the sublime destination for every YA fan.
The crux of YALLFest’s success and popularity is undoubtedly in the steely determination between the organizing authors and co-founder Jonathan Sanchez (Blue Bicycle Books) to host a premier event not only for readers but for authors as well. Melissa De La Cruz (Blue Blood Series, The Ring and the Crown, Stolen, Vampires of Manhattan) notes that YALLFest is an event where “authors take care of each other,” an approach which fosters unparalleled camaraderie, collaboration and support amongst the writers. In fact, last year’s YALLFest birthed the idea for the twelve author anthology My True Love Gave To Me, edited by the gracious Stephanie Perkins (Anna and the French Kiss, Isla and the Happily Ever After), and it’s safe to assume and hope that this year’s festival sparked similar discussions of future collaborations.
The panels, populated and moderated by authors, were engaging and relevant with a solid balance of entertainment and information. There are few venues in the world where an audience has the opportunity to: hear Nikki Grimes (Bronx Masquerade, Words with Wings) sing “Amazing Grace” on a dare; watch Veronica Roth (Divergent Series) and James Dashner (The Maze Runner, The Mortality Doctrine) play Taboo; listen to Ally Condie (Matched Trilogy) and Sarah Dessen (Along for the Ride, The Moon and More) debate about a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s ability to arm wrestle; and ask the famous Kathy Reichs (The Virals Series, The Temperance Brennan Series) about film/TV adaptations. Surrounded by supportive colleagues and a legion of thousands of faithful fans, these authors demonstrated zero smugness, and at times, showed as much excitement as fans to be part of the magic.
Perhaps the most formidable aspect of YALLFest was the manner in which these authors used the platform to humanize themselves, sharing stories of their own struggles as a writer and human being. No matter how many times a parent or teacher encourages a struggling student, the same message sounds different coming from blockbuster author James Dashner, who along with the lovely Sara Zarr (Story of a Girl, Roomies, The Lucy Variations), participated in the opening keynote panel specifically focused on “smashing the allusion that getting published is easy.” Ms. Zarr noted that it took 10-12 years before she was published and Mr. Dashner recounted his previous career as an accountant while sharing stories of rejection and anecdotes about his disdain for the editing process.
Another panel, titled “My Name Is <Writer> And I Am A Basket Case” offered a candid discussion with eight wildly successful authors who struggle with ADHD, anxiety, depression, and overwhelming self-doubt on a daily basis. Libba Bray (Gemma Doyle Trilogy) noted that “fiction is cathartic because it gives the reader permission to feel’, this was just one of many powerful messages for the audience, many of whom are navigating the tumultuous teenage years and not only idolize these authors, but live vicariously through their complex characters and plots.
There were brilliant moments of hilarity sprinkled throughout the weekend, thanks to the quick wit and comedic timing of authors like Brendan Reichs (The Virals Series), Aaron Hartzler (Rapture Practice), Gayle Forman (If I Stay, Just One Day) and Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm Series), who brought the house down several times over the course of the weekend. These moments, coupled with intelligent panels, accessibility to authors, and Margaret Stohl’s (The Beautiful Creatures Series, Icons Series) infectious and endearing enthusiasm, were the heartbeat of YALLFest and served as a testament to the vitality of a genre experiencing unprecedented growth on page and screen.
(All images shared with permission by and courtesy of David Strauss Photography.)
More about YALLFest
YALLFest’s mission is to improve literacy through great YA literature and was co-founded by Jonathan Sanchez, owner of Charleston’s Blue Bicycle Books, and Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia (co-authors of the Beautiful Creatures series). Melissa de la Cruz, (author of the Blue Bloods series) is the festival’s director of development, supported by fellow executive board members Brendan Reichs (co-author of the Virals series) and Pseudonymous Bosch (author of the Secret series.)
Learn more about YALLFest, including YALLFest 2015 (November 13-14, 2015) and a newly announced sister festival in California-YALLWest (April 11-12, 2015) at www.yallfest.org.