YALLFest is the largest Young Adult book festival in the United States, and we’re lucky enough to have it right here in Charleston. This year, sixty Y.A. authors were in attendance including; Veronica Roth (Divergent), looking fabulous in blue rhinestone ear cuffs and a new blond ’do, Sarah Dessen (The Truth About Forever, This Lullaby) with her trademark Southern style, and James Dashner (The Maze Runner), who has just been gifted adult braces and a smashing success of a movie. Over 3,000 people made their way to YALLFest last year, from as far away as Toronto, Canada – and although the numbers aren’t official for 2014 yet, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that even more fans have flocked to Charleston. And everyone, it seems, had a fantastic time.
FRIDAY’S PENGUIN MARCH
When I arrived to the lit crawl on Friday – basically three hours of intense book signing –the sidewalks were already thick with people, from parents lugging suitcases full of books for their kids to nine-year-olds clutching copies of their favorite novels. The hum of excitement filled the air. I was alone in the sea of people but a mother and her daughter almost immediately struck up a conversation about the panels I was going to on Saturday and who I most wanted to see. The sense of community was unbelievable. As I had confessed to the mother and daughter, Scott Westerfeld (Uglies, Afterworlds),Lauren Oliver (Delirium, Rooms) and Sarah Dessen were those I eagerly awaited to meet. After the long day, I went back to my dorm with a backpack full of signed books. I felt like the happiest, nerdiest kid on the block – but I also knew that thousands of their fans were as happy as I was!
SATURDAY – OPENING KEYNOTE
I was lucky enough to attend the ticketed opening keynote at the Charleston Music Hall, and I am very glad I did. Sara Zarr (How to Save a Life, Story of a Girl) and James Dashner spoke for a fast hour about their experiences as writers and cracked jokes that only the geekiest of Y.A. geeks understood (myself included). Dashner and Zarr are old writing friends from the literary community in Utah, and they seemed over the moon about each other’s success. Dashner spoke briefly about his movie and both discussed the writing process but the most moving point for me was at the end. “For some reason,” Dashner noted with a hint of incredulity in his voice, “people think of writing as the only thing that should not take practice. Would you expect to be good at a sport at the first practice?
Would you expect to paint a masterpiece the first time you pick up a brush? Practice writing and you will become good at it. But realize that it takes time and patience.” I couldn’t have said it better.
I attended six panels throughout the day: Assasins, Secrets, and Spies; All in the Family; My Name is <Writer> and I am a Basket Case; Boys Vs. Girls – On & Behind the Page; Incurable Romantics; and Hollywood Stories. All of them were funny, well performed and easy to get to (I split my time between the Charleston Music Hall and the American Theater’s ballroom). During “My Name is <Writer> and I am a Basket Case”, by far my favorite panel, I sat merely feet away from Veronica Roth, Libba Bray (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy) and Stephanie Perkins (Anna and the French Kiss), among others, as they discussed mental health issues openly and responsibly. “We’re definitely not glamorizing these issues,” moderator Margaret Stohl (Beautiful Creatures) ensured the audience. But everyone on the panel seemed to agree that the stigma around mental health has to go, because stigmatizing these problems makes already struggling people feel more alone. It was an hour of pure community, and by the end of it I respected the panelists more than I ever dreamed I would. I felt like I knew them, which was incredibly cool. I also enjoyed the material presented in “All in the Family,” in which the authors discussed the ways they (sometimes accidentally) projected their own family genres onto the page. As well as the “Hollywood Stories” panel, featuring Veronica Roth, Ann Brashares (The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants), James Dashner and Gayle Forman (If I Stay), among others. The audience’s questions were interesting, and I loved hearing the range of opinions on the influence the actors had on the authors. Every minute was fascinating, and I wish I could go back and hear them all again!
Sarah Dessen and Ally Condie (Matched, Atlantia) closed out the day with a hilarious and intriguing hour during which they asked each other questions. Dessen was teased relentlessly about her alma mater UNC’s loss a few days previously. Condie shared her obsession with objects in her books (“It’s easier for me to use physical objects as plot devices” she noted), and Dessen talked for nearly five minutes about winning a contest to see the premiere of the Veronica Mars movie (“Everything is coming up, Sarah” laughed moderator Brendan Reichs). They also shared their struggles as writers; Dessen noting that she felt like a “one trick pony” and greatly admired Condie’s ability to dream up a trilogy of books set in the future, while Condie suggested that realistic fiction is one of the hardest things to pull off successfully. Both were open and fun, and the cheers from the packed theater spoke to their eloquence and popularity.
Sad you missed this year’s YALLFest? No worries! This was the fourth annual YALLFest, and it looks like it will continue for several years to come! Volunteers are always needed, which could be a fun way to meet authors and see the festival (that’s what I plan on doing next year) and it’s an awesome time, even if you just go as a regular participant. If you feel that your Y.A. days are behind you, I promise that the energy at YALLFest will bring your tween-self back, fangirling (or –boying) like it’s 2005 again.
Katie Joiner is an English and Secondary Education major with a minor in Spanish. She is a self-proclaimed bibliophile, enjoys Earl Grey tea, and adores the College.