YALSA’s YA Lit Symposium 2012

Because this year’s symposium was held in St. Louis, a city only a four hour drive away from Lawrence and where my best friend happens to live, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to attend. The conference embodied everything I love about working with teenagers in the library: it’s FUN. Not only did I learn a lot about young adult literature and library programs for teens, I got to meet some other people from the YA lit world I’d only knew from the Internet and some fabulous authors whose books I loved.

I’ll have a post at The Hub at the end of the week that will go into more detail about some of the programs I mentioned, so this is intended to be a more personal perspective.

YA Literature and Fan Created Work

The first panel I went to was on YA Literature and Fan-created Work. It was the one I was most excited about. Confession: I write in a small, obscure fandom, and have for years. I made a whole bunch of friends, including my critique partners. No, I won’t tell you which fandom, but a year ago, I wouldn’t even have admitted to having even more than a passing knowledge of what fandom actually is. I think that shows how much more culturally acceptable participation in a fandom has become.

We’d already been talking about doing some fan related programming for next year’s summer reading programs. I’m interested in photography, and after seeing Margot Wood’s The Real Fauxtographer blog where she shares pictures of scenes from YA novels, I thought that would be a fun program to do with teens and they were into the idea. I hoped to get some more ideas for other things we could do.

They didn’t really discuss a lot of programming besides what I’d already been thinking about, but they did help me understand some reasons why it’s a good idea to encourage fandom and build programming around it. So here are my “take-aways.”

  • Fandom is subversive and a great space for people to explore alternative identies free of most heteronormative constraints.

Even though my fandom is very heteronormative, I was aware that was an exception, but I didn’t realize how incredibly queer fandom can be. The presenters had lovely statistics that showed just how radical a place it could be.

  • Fandom is all about community.

For kids that are somewhat on the outside, who don’t feel like they belong, connecting with others who are as obsessed with the literature and other media they love can be life-saving. Taking that online community and recreating it in a physical space is challenging, but worthwhile.

The presenters discussed a survey of both teens and adults that they conducted about those who participate in fandom (this was a survey I participated in last summer). It confirmed impressions I already had observed in my own fandom. I have read very few romances in published fiction—but nearly everything I read in fandom is firmly in the romance genre. This is true of lots who read fanfiction. The results are really interesting.

The Invisible Minority: LGBTQ Literature

I was also excited to go to this panel. I’m a big fan of queer young adult literature, and wished they would have done more book talks. This is probably because I already knew the scary stats about queer kids because I wrote a paper for a Peace Studies seminar on GSAs and reducing violence in high school during college. But for those who hadn’t seen the hard numbers about the violence and bullying that queer kids face, they were surely enlightening. I did add a few books to my to-read list. This is one of the panels I’m writing about for the Hub, so more on it later. The most inspiring part was definitely the portion where author Brian Katcher spoke. It’s awesome to see a straight white guy from rural Missouri who thinks that writing about transgendered youth is important. If you haven’t read Almost Perfect, add it to your to-read list now!

When a Book is More than Paper: Transmedia in YA Literature

This panel was all about enhanced ebooks. I noted a few titles we might get for the iPads we have in the teen zone at the library (iPoe and Frankenstein) and several that my husband, Mister BS, who teaches English to Special Education students, is going to be excited about using in his classroom (notably, Shakespeare in Bits). The presenters discussed the digital divide and the history of enhanced ebooks and whether they aided in reading comprehension. It was very interesting. While some (notably, John Green) doesn’t support enhanced ebooks, I came away from the panel excited about the future of books that incorporate multimedia elements.

The Future of Author Visits

This panel left me disappointed. While it was nice to hear from some of the authors on the panel, and I did pick up some of their books from Book Blitz I might not have otherwise been drawn to, I didn’t feel that I came away with any new ideas for how to improve author visits at our library. Maybe this is in part because all the ones we’ve had recently have been very successful. We had a well-known local author interview a YA debut, which we billed as “a conversation” and hosted the Merry Sisters of Fate, who all know each other and interacted well. I think having a group or interview style helps take the pressure off the author to perform. We’ve also had a successful Skype author visit (Marie Rutowski—I still need to write a post about her). Like was brought up at the panel, it helped that the audience had read the book and had a month of related programming to get them excited about talking with the author. Luckily, not only did my colleagues attend the other panels, they resources are available online, so I don’t feel like I totally missed out.

Collapsing Boundaries: Being Hit by Blurred Genres

This panel began with some excellent book talking by two veterans in the field, Teri Lesesne and Rosemary Chance. More than the actual books, the way they discussed them made me want to read them if I hadn’t already, and gave me great examples for how a good pitch is the best way to connect the right book with the right reader.

Then, of course, we had three awesome authors: Helen Frost, who writes novels in poetry with mind-boggling structures, Scott Westerfeld, who writes dystopias, science fiction, steampunk, and vampires, and A. S. King, whose books are strange and beautiful magical realism. I’m also writing about this panel for The Hub, so let me include my tweets from that morning since they probably won’t make my YALSA post.

  • On love triangles: “if everyone likes the vampire, it’s no good” – Scott Westerfeld
  • On responding to reviews: “”that’s not what oral sex means” – A. S. King
  • “Every book is read differently by every reader” – A. S. King
  • “When others read your books, you find out do much more about it” – Scott Westerfeld
  • “I believe anything is possible and that’s my problem” – A. S. King
  • “Adults…not you guys, you’re librarians” – Scott Westerfeld

This panel was highly entertaining, and as excited as it made me to recommend books to patrons, it really got me excited as a writer.

I was so excited after hearing Scott Westerfeld’s closing speech, I wrote my monthly review for the staff picks blog at the library on Leviathan, so I’ll share a version of it here later this week.

Overall, it was a fun weekend and I learned a lot. It’s sort of like finding your tribe. I now feel more than ever that the career for me is as a teen librarian.

Di you attend the YA Literature Symposium in St. Louis? Which panels did you most enjoy? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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