Kelly Rae Smith for the Charleston City Paper
No one could blame you for assuming that something called YALLFest would be a down-home kind of hoedown, abundant with either biscuits or bourbon, and definitely dripping with drawls. In fact, YALLFest is a celebration of the ever-growing genre of young adult literature. You may not see many cowboy hats there, but it's sure to be quite a stimulating day of appearances by almost 50 literary heroes, over half of whom are New York Times best sellers.
"It's a little funnier and wilder than some of the more staid book events," says Margaret Stohl, co-author of Beautiful Creatures and co-organizer of the event. "It's meant to be an entertaining and wildly enthusiastic book weekend."
YALLFest came about only last year, the brainchild of Blue Bicycle Books' Jonathan Sanchez. When he realized that many book festivals didn't give the young adult genre a very big chunk of deserved recognition, he contacted a few YA author friends, and soon this cleverly named, completely nonprofit event was born. Now in its sophomore year, YALLFest has nearly doubled its lineup of authors and is expecting an equally encouraging turnout.
One factor in the fest's success is no doubt the swift surge in popularity that YA lit has seen over the last decade. As evidenced by The Hunger Games, Twilight, and the like, more and more YA novels are proving to be must-haves for an increasing number of young readers — and adults. However, Sanchez thinks that it's not really such a sudden concept after all.
"It's always been there to some extent," he says. "There's always been Narnia, Lois Lowry, Judy Blume. But lately, a lot of people have been sort of tapping into various energies. The Hunger Games made teenagers feel vital and vulnerable at the same time, which is kind of how you feel when you're a young person."
Melissa De La Cruz, another co-organizer of YALLFest and author of titles like The Witches of East End and Blue Bloods, seems certain that the trend stems from the likes of Harry Potter, a book series that has sold more than 400 million copies, helping many more novels to climb the YA lit ladder.
"After Harry Potter, there was a wealth of interest and a lot more authors were writing for kids," De La Cruz says. "And then Twilight came, which was deeply romantic, and it's kind of gone from there. Now there's these action-y, not-so-romantic, but kind of more heroic books, and it's just become this whole evolution."
But despite the undeniable rise in kids' love of reading, YA fiction really isn't just for minors anymore. De La Cruz says that more than 50 percent of the YA fiction readership is comprised of adults.
"With kids' books, we can be in that idealistic, optimistic mindset," De La Cruz says. "You're seeing the whole world as open to you, and you can be anybody you want. You're not a 40-year-old accountant trapped in a cubicle anymore. You're a kid and you're smarter than everybody and you have so much promise. I think that a lot of people just kind of love that time when you can be anything and think anything, and I know I love to write about it. I think that dramatically we're drawn to it."
There really doesn't seem to be a vast difference in a teenager's reasons for reading, though. Take Lily Frain, a former pupil at Blue Bicycle Books' summer writing camp. She says, "I love reading because it is some where no one else can be or go in my own mind, where I can go alone and unafraid, and where I find shelter from reality. It also opens my mind to other possibilities and worlds inside our own and inspires me to create my own stories and ideas."
Frain will be among the many young readers at YALLFest this Saturday seeking inspiration from the slew of events that have been painstakingly organized for the enjoyment of young and older minds alike. But the attendees won't be the only ones seeking inspiration. In fact, the influence of our beautiful little corner of the coast is heavily relied upon in many writings of YALLFest authors. Kami Garcia's and Stohl's Beautiful Creatures, for example, is set in a fictional town called Gatlin, outside of Charleston. (A Warner Brothers' adaptation is due out in theaters this February, by the way.)
Thanks to Conde Nast, it's no secret that Charleston's the best city in the nation, so of course authors as far as California, Canada, and Ireland are packing their bags. "Charleston is magical," Stohl says. "That's why we set our books there, because it's a magical place. We write about magic in the Lowcountry because it's the remaining place in the United States where you could imagine that magic could actually happen."
Stohl and the rest of the crew may be excited about Charleston (and its food!), but the real joy will come when they're face to face with their fans.
"Meeting our readers is the most fun part of the festival. I've told all of the authors, when you meet your readers from the South, you're so moved. They're so polite and appreciative. It's just a different experience," De La Cruz says.
The writers are happy to chat and answer any questions at one of the signings or panels happening throughout the day, all of which will be stationed at the American Theater, the Charleston Music Hall, or Blue Bicycle Books. The keynote speakers, Cassandra Clare, author of City of Bones, and Holly Black, of The Spiderwick Chronicles' fame, will head up the festival with a discussion on literary friendships, which is fitting since that has essentially been the cornerstone of YALLFest since its beginning.
Literary agents will be available should any budding writers want a few minutes of one-one-one advice. And don't miss the 6 p.m. YALLFest Smackdown, a curious storytelling game where the entire cast of authors separate into teams and compete for a Golden Pie award.
One of nearly 20 panels will include In Production, which will discuss Garcia and Stohl's forthcoming book-turned-movie Beautiful Creatures as well as Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, which has a film release next year, too. Additionally, Carolina's Own will see five local writers engage with their fans. With a healthy roundup of Southern authors on the bill, Charleston-based names included, you can be sure that this festival will have plenty of down-home personality.