yallfest 2014.

I went to YALLfest a few weeks ago with some library friends. If you didn’t click that link I will tell you that YALLfest is a young adult literature festival in Charleston, SC. I had never been before but a friend was organizing a trip and it seemed like too much fun to pass up.

I got to see so many authors I love (seriously, look at this list) and was inspired by their stories and their passion. I love young adult literature and it was fun to be around so many people who feel the same way, to watch the tweens and teens as well as the adults who were having just as much fun as I was.

Two things were particularly lovely to me that day. The first was a tribute to Walter Dean Myers by Varian Johnson, Ellen Hopkins, Nikki Grimes, Coe Booth, and Kwame Anderson. It was a huge honor to hear them talk about him and about their work. Nikki Grimes read a poem from one of the characters in Bronx Masquerade (but not actually from the book) and watching Kwame Alexander listen to it–he was amazed and excited–was a pure pleasure.

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The other big thing that happens at YALLfest is the smackdown, and I don’t know what happened in other years, but this year there were readings from childhood writings, games, some silliness regarding picture book authors trying to break into YA, and of course Libba Bray’s band Tiger Beat.

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My favorite moment of the event was something from the smackdown they called the “First Line Medley” where several authors read the first lines of favorite books. There was just something beautiful to me about the way a line would catch on in the room and the crowd would respond to it – the big ones, of course, like The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Harry Potter and The Fault in Our Stars. But there were others I didn’t know (or couldn’t guess) and those were just as wonderful to hear, if only because it reminded me of what a good first line can be. If the ones I already know and love are like a worn welcome mat, the ones I was less familiar with felt like an open door inviting me to explore.

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(Ann Brashares is on the left! ANN BRASHARES. AND SHE WORE JEANS.)

It was a great gift to be in the company of so many readers. I came home with long lists of books and a renewed sense of the place of YA literature in our culture. I hope to go back next year, and you should come, too.

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