Who said the printed word is a dying art form? Thousands of southern California teens flooded Santa Monica High School on Saturday, May 5 to prove them wrong.
The atmosphere at the fourth annual YALLWEST Festival for young adult literature was celebratory. Celebrating creativity and imagination. Celebrating language and ideas. Celebrating a place where reading is cool. Blue and yellow balloons, loud music and bright sunshine greeted visitors. And books. Tents and tents and tents of books.
Author and festival co-founder Margaret Stohl said, “This was our fourth and biggest year! The best part is always the community. It’s the feeling in the air, the joy, the love that everyone in our YALL empathy army has for each other.”
Long lines of enthusiastic book lovers of all races, ages and sizes spiraled across walkways, quads and parking lots.
Tents featured book publishers like Penguin Teen, writing programs like Writopia and Interlochen, book sellers and specialty shops like Hi De Ho comics and Book Beau for reading accessories. In addition to panels, book purchasing, signing, and games, like Family Feud, there was also an organized game of quidditch.
Almost 50 panels and discussions were held throughout the day, covering a wide range of topics. “This was the most diverse author list we’ve ever presented, and we are super proud of our festival for prioritizing inclusive paneling,” said Stohl.
At the “Basketcases” panel, authors shared intensely personal stores about depression, self-esteem and creativity, as well as navigating LGBTQ+ issues amidst a heteronormative culture. “Something about the honest acknowledgment of how hard it is to be human in 2018 just really appeals to me,” said Stohl.
During the “YA Goes Hollywood” panel, authors Becky Albertalli, Jenny Han, David Levithan and Angie Thomas discussed the highs and lows of having their books turned into major motion picture movies.
In the “Ripped from the Headlines” panel, authors shared their insprirations for writing. Jay Coles talked about Trayvon Martin’s death being a galvanizing force, while Kody Keplinger talked about school shootings, explaining how her own experience in a lockdown influenced her writing. Many panels celebrated publishing’s new interest in marginalized writers and voices.
People came together united in their appreciation of literature. Authors Tomi Adeyemi, Marie Lu, Gayle Forman and Veronica Roth were exceptional draws for the crowd.
But mostly, YALLWEST offered teens a community where they can gather with other people who share their passion for characters and stories.
In a climate where libraries are closing and we are told that teenagers would rather watch a show than read a book, festival attendees’ passion for literature was abundantly clear. At YALLWEST, authors are revered like celebrities, and readers are treated to swag, signings and tasty food.
Throughout the day, many festival-goers retreated from the action to do what they love most: book in hand, they found a shady spot to read.