I had a disrupted morning so it was somewhat fortunate for me that many of the earlier guests at National Book Festival were authors I had seen in prior years. I spent much of the day in the Teens room, starting with Marie Lu who talked about writing fantasy and tried to answer several fan questions without giving away too many spoilers. (One questioner literally squeed at her answer about the relationship between two characters, which was adorable.) Then there was a YA romance panel with Melissa de la Cruz, Nicola Yoon, and Sandhya Menon. (I apologize I retained none of the names of interviewers from the Washington Post on these panels.) They talked about the inspirations for their latest, the research, and the importance of seeing relationships that looked like theirs in print. Since de la Cruz's latest is based on a well known real life couple, there was a question about making it your own. All the authors said it will happen organically, and often in revision as you make more and more of your own authorial choices, so just let yourself write.
I grabbed lunch and then came back to one of the Children's areas, where Ellen Oh and Meg Medina were talking about the We Need Diverse Books anthology. They took a pic with the audience to share with Kwame Alexander who was supposed to join them but had to cancel. They talked about inspirations for the story and forewords. And Meg Medina is working on a longer version. They got lots of questions about favorites.
I expected that the room with Roxane Gay would be packed (it was, not everyone made it in) so I went to see John Scalzi in Thrillers and Fantasy. He read some shorts and giggled as he made things hard for his sign language interpreter. He took questions from the audience, which were often exceedingly specific, as befitting the sci-fi fantasy fan base.
Then back in Teens, Angie Thomas spoke about the inspiration for her book. There were some interesting questions from the audience both about movie casting and the choice to have Starr date interracially. Thomas said some of the movie casting actually happened before she had finished writing the character descriptions, and only been announced later, so she understood that some people might feel that Starr doesn't look how they imagined, but the movie team had cast someone who was passionate about the things that Starr is passionate about and she felt that would come through onscreen. As for Chris, Thomas said, that honestly, that was an authorial choice based on how to make things harder for her character. She also had talked with her interviewer about Haley and how Haley was representative of a lot of people who are big activists, but have failed to be intersectional in their thinking.
After that was the poetry slam, and let me tell you. There were teens from Louisiana, Minnesota, Indiana, and DC. They did not reveal their origins until after so we couldn't be biased. I encourage you to seek out the video when the Library of Congress posts it. They had to incorporate writing or books or school into the first round. The second round was free for all. And they covered depression, suicide, academic expectations, post election fears, eating disorders, sexual assault, white privilege, and a host of things. There were many appreciative snaps and occasionally just dead silence as the audience processed a pointed line. As is often the case, the pieces the got more personal, that addressed something the author felt, rather than addressed the entire world, were often more affecting. But, there were no duds, only gradations of awesome. And I have to tell you, watching the room murmur and go fannish because the Librarian of Congress stopped in, was a sight to behold.