Monday, March 21, 2011

NYC Teen Author Festival: Part Two

I thought maybe the second day of the Symposium would be more crowded, it being on a Saturday and all, but there weren't any more people there than the day before.  There were, however, more teenagers, which was nice to see.  And they were all excited to see the authors they liked, which warms my heart.

There were four panels the second day as well, plus one tribute.  The first panel of the day was "The Ties That Bind, Part One: The Struggle Against Darkness," with Kim Harrington, Lisa McMann, Maggie Stiefvater and Robin Wasserman and moderated by David Levithan.  Each author chose a passage from her upcoming novel where a character is coming up against darkness.  Three out of the four books were fantasy or sci fi.  David asked how much the characters were shaped by the darkness they experienced.  Kim Harrington, whose upcoming book Clarity I've been hearing a lot of buzz about, said her book looks at truth versus family loyalty and because her main character had been through years of torment it formed the young women she became.  Robin's books, the Skinned series, looks at a girl whose world was free of darkness, and what happens when that darkness seeps in.  Robin had the most thoughtful things to say on this panel.  She talked about how in writing about darkness, writers often focus on very small things, not the larger darkness of the world.  She's like to try to do that and see other writers do it as well.

Next up was "The Ties That Bind Part Two: Family Bonds."  The panel was made up of Melissa Kantor, Melina Marchetta, Alyssa Sheinmel, Natalie Standiford, and Danette Vigilante.  It was moderated by Jack Martin and Chris Shoemaker.  This wasn't a very interesting panel.  The questions weren't very interesting, and the authors didn't have much to say.  They talked a bit about secrets, and if secrets were essential to growing up.  Sorry, there wasn't much to report on this one.

The final "Ties That Bind" panel was "Friends and Community."  And there were actually men on the panel!  OMG!  Three of them!  We had Matt de la Pena, Ellen Hopkins, Torrey Maldonado, Michael Northrop and Leila Sales and moderated by Barry Lyga.  Leila Sales was kind of the odd one out when they did their readings.  All the other authors' books dealt with fairly serious topics.  Leila's was about elite private school girls.  Torrey Maldonado was an interesting guy.  He grew up in the Red Hook projects of Brooklyn and is a public school teacher.  His book also takes place in the Red Hook projects.  He talked about how our friends and community has the power to transform us, but also to derail us.    Barry asked if the supporting characters in the author's books impacted the direction of the book, which I thought was a very interesting question.  Michael Northrop, whose new book is Trapped, thought that it was going to be a harsher book, kind of Lord of the Flies like.  As he wrote and he got to know the characters, he found they cooperated more than he'd thought they would and it became more about the social dynamics of the group.  Ellen Hopkins said her main character's girlfriend ended up being more dynamic and involved than she'd anticipated.

There was one more panel discussion, but first there was a tribute to Michael Cart.  Michael Cart is a writer, historian, librarian, reviewer and advocate for youth.  Jacqueline Woodson and David Levithan both spoke about the impact Michael Cart had of their lives.  Jacqueline talked about how as a young writer she wanted to write about the African American experience and the Queer community.  She wanted to be out and write about it but felt people wouldn't "get it."  When she wrote The Dear One, she was scared what would happen.  And then she got a good review from Michael Cart, who told her to keep doing what she was doing, and what she was doing mattered.  He was always in her corner and helped her keep on.

David spoke about how Michael continually moves things forward.  He never held back either praise of criticism.  David talked about the anthology Michael put together, How Beautiful the Ordinary, which both David and Jacqueline wrote for.  David read his story from the anthology.  Like most of David Levithan's work, it was beautiful and a little sad but ultimately hopeful.  Michael Cart then talked the imperative need for YA literature.  Powerful literature can save and shape lives.  It gives faces to all teens, and is a cure for loneliness. YA books acknowledge teens and say, "You're not alone; you're not invisible."  It was kind of sad more people weren't there to see Michael Cart be honored.  Where were the other publishing people?  Maybe it wasn't an important enough honor.  It just seemed a little odd.

The final panel was "LGBTYA: Past, Present, and Future" with Nick Burd, Michael Cart, David Levithan, Patrick Ryan, Jacqueline Woodson and Jack Martin, who also moderated.  Early in YA fiction with gay characters, the gay character almost always died, often from a car accident.  Annie on My Mind was one of the first books that not only allowed the characters to be gay and live, but also really looked at a gay relationship.  Jack asked if the authors were able to find books with gay characters growing up.  Jacqueline said she would read into books and make them into characters that were like her, even if it wasn't explicitly said.  Nick talked about how there wasn't really any YA, and he mostly read adult fiction where there were some gay characters.

The authors talked about what they felt was missing from LGBT YA.  David said that most books with gay characters are white and suburban.  There isn't enough lesbian literature, and most of the current YA writers are white men.  Jacqueline said there isn't enough about gay people of color, and would like to see more trans literature.  The authors were asked what people feared in the past and now.  David said that in the past most people were afraid of being out, for young writers that isn't as much of an issue.  Michael said there used to be a fear that if you came out, you wouldn't be able to write for children (because you were a pervert).  David thinks that people are most scared of sex, but people are scared of straight sex too.

There was an interesting discussion on AIDS today.  In the 80s and 90s, AIDS was prevalent in the United States and in books with gay characters.  It isn't so much any more.  There are very few new books that deal with HIV and AIDS, although it's far from gone.  Patrick said it doesn't seem to be a concern for the younger generation.  Young people still need to be worried about bullying and suicide and AIDS.  They talked about a term they been hearing, "post-gay" which most of them thought was a silly term.  Patrick said he thought the "It gets better" message was false.  It should be "It gets betterish."  The LGBT panel was one of the more interesting with the combination of interesting people with things to say and thoughtful questions.

Overall, I had a good time at the NYC Teen Author Festival.  It was nice that I was on vacation and could go, but I don't think it's something I'll feel like I need to go to every year.


  1. Thanks for writing about it! I added a couple of books to my to-read list. Sorry I missed out, but now maybe not that sorry. :)

  2. Yeah, I'm glad I had other things to do and people to see because it wasn't really worth going just for that. Also, they were recording everything so it's probably going to be up online soon.

  3. Ooh, so glad to hear may appear and I can fake attend it via the interwebs. Bummer and 100% agreement that it wasn't advertised well!


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