I have wanted to go to Yallfest since 2010, when it began. It’s been on my list and every November, when I inevitably couldn’t go, I would stalk Twitter and Instagram and all of my favorite blogs for updates of the coolest day of the year. It got to the point where I was actually pained that I wasn’t there. Those were my people, that was my life! How could I not be there?? But there was always a reason, school, lack of funds, just general universe-is-against-you things. And that was how it was until this year. This year, my first year of “adulthood,” if you wanted to call it that (I, for the record, do not).
This year, I went to Yallfest.
Too much hype? Absolutely not.
Let’s recap. I went with my mom, and we landed in Charleston on Friday morning. The festivities didn’t start until later in the day so we had some time to kill. We grabbed lunch from a place called Smoke and I had the most exquisite sandwich on the face of this planet.
After that, we drove around the city in our rental Prius, which is a confusing spaceship of a vehicle. Charleston feels unchanged by the 21st century. All the houses were built in the same style, with sweeping front porches and leaning walls. On what felt like every street corner, there was a historical plaque describing the history of the “War Between the States” or honoring the efforts of a fallen Confederate soldier. The city is peppered with art galleries, more than I’ve ever seen in one place and the coffee game is on point. The contrariness of the whole place is impossible to miss. Part of you is like, “Um…the ‘War Between the States’??” while another part of you is like, “How does anyone ever leave this beautiful place and their beautiful sandwiches??” It was surreal.
Yallcrawl, a “parade” of book signings, took place that evening in several locally-owned stores and museums and venues around town. I went to two, where I met Victoria Aveyard, who wrote “Red Queen,” and Scott Westerfeld, who HELLO wrote “Uglies” and “Leviathan”and other great books. Victoria was so cool and kind and Scott Westerfeld was a mensch, totally funny and friendly.
The next day was when the fest really began. It opened with a panel from R.L. Stine and Richelle Mead, and it was hilarious. They talked about how they got their start and how they’ve kept up their momentums. From then on, I went to panels held by authors discussing professional and personal jealousy, writing emotional scenes, the significance of sexuality and gender in YA and more. I also went to this killer panel about getting your start in the publishing industry, which was held by a couple prominent editors and agents, where I received some really valuable advice. I saw and met a ton of cool authors, some of my own personal heroes, including Daniel Handler, Meg Cabot, Marie Lu, Libba Bray, Zac Brewer, Margaret Stohl, Aaron Hartzler, Sabaa Tahir and GAYLE FORMAN! Awe-struck and speechless by Gayle Forman, because she is such a great and meaningful author, and she’s also a feminist badass with a lot of grievances and a bunch of punches to throw. She’s awesome. It’s like she says what I wanted to say, but didn’t know how to put into words.
It all ended in YA Smackdown, featuring Libba Bray’s band Tiger Beat. All of the authors came together on stage and played games and goofed off. Libba Bray played us out with her quirky, throwback band. It was a blast.
Margaret Stohl opened the fest by saying that it was always the best day of the year. And I see why. I’m very conscious that the YA community is unlike many others. We’re all together, geeking out over our favorite stories, and just generally loving each other. Hate isn’t invited, because there’s just no room for it. People kept saying we’re a tribe, one founded on mutual admiration and a love of words. I could feel it all day, in the readers I spoke with while waiting in lines, in the authors who put their hearts into their books and to the editors and agents who pull it all together. I’m thankful to have weaseled my way in to this kooky place, and I plan on staying here for a while.
Until next year, Yallfest! You really are the best day of the year.