A few weeks ago my mom, my daughter, and I flew to Charleston, SC.
Charleston is one of my all-time favorite cities and it’s also where my husband grew up with his six siblings. But this time, instead of traveling to see our extended family, we were there for the annual YA’LL Fest.
For those of you without young readers in your life, YA’LL fest is one of the largest Young Adult book festivals on the east coast and is sponsored by Epic Reads, a huge online YA reading community. This year, 60 of the most beloved (and bestselling) authors were there to sign books and meet with young readers in conference sessions.
And the most amazing thing about this trip? It was a 16th birthday gift to my daughter from her grandmother. They wanted to spend the day together making memories and this is what they came up with. In fact, the two of them planned the entire trip, including picking the hotel where my husband and I got engaged. The Mills House Wyndham Hotel in the center of the historic district.
After checking into our hotel on Friday afternoon, we headed to Upper King Street for the first of the book signings with Richelle Mead, Keira Cass, and Leigh Bardugo (among others). Then the festival officially opened up with its annual Red Carpet walk at the Charleston Public Library. This was a ticketed event that my daughter somehow got us into.
Authors walked down a red carpet through the middle of the YA section of the library and sat at a long panel table. They then proceeded to entertain us with stories of woe and mayhem about how they got published, their failures and triumphs, and hilarious stories of meeting the needs of their editors and voracious young readers. Afterwards, those lucky enough to have tickets, like my daughter, were able to stand in line for more booksignings.
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Although we were exhausted when it was over, we had a wonderful dinner at Poogan’s Porch Restaurant near out hotel. Then we tumbled into bed, dreaming of all the books we’d buy the next day.
Saturday, after an early breakfast, we headed for the central hub of the festival. The Big Blue Book Tent sponsored by the Blue Bicycle bookstore on King Street. The bookstore literally set up a big blue tent and sold books all day long. (Yes, we bought many of them!) Then, young readers took their books around Upper King Street to different venues to get them signed and meet their favorite authors.
The whole day was a crazy mix-up of waiting in huge lines for authors such as Veronica Roth, Meg Cabot, Keira Cass, R.L. Stine, Alexandra Bracken, Marie Lu, Scott Westerfeld, Marisa Meyer, Gayle Forman, E. Lockart, Alex London, and so many others.
Since we had my mother with us, we figured out a three-buddy system whereby my daughter could maximize her time between sessions, meet and greets, and book singings while my mom and I stood in line. And I have to say my mother is a great book carrier and line holder! There were even meet and greets with my daughter’s favorite BookTubers. (Young readers who do their book reviews on YouTube)
Although we took a quick break for lunch, my daughter scored us tickets to the Meg Cabot talk on Saturday afternoon, followed by sessions with Leigh Bardugo, Marissa Meyer, and Veronica Roth (among others) on fairytales and science fiction tropes.
The only sad moment was when we realized that the “Harry Potter is Lyfe” session had filled long before it started and my daughter, dressed for the occasion with her Gryffindor scarf and Hogwarts robe, couldn’t get in.
Saturday night, after the last book signing with Alexandra Bracken, we went to the Tiger Beat Smackdown at the Charleston Music Hall. Authors read from their earliest works (including a few epic middle school poems), showed book/movie trailers for YA books, and generally made fun of each other. Then, Tiger Beat, a band consisting of YA authors, played until closing. It was one of the festival’s many highlights.
This was also a ticketed event, but somehow (I have no idea how) my mom and my daughter got tickets for that too. This was their birthday date and they had the entire thing planned out long before we got on the Charleston-bound airplane.
After another wonderful dinner at 82 Queen, we fell into bed surrounded by so many books I couldn’t sleep because I had no idea how we’d get them home.
YA’LL Fest was an amazing, fun, and exhausting weekend. Definitely an event worth the money and time, and it’s a festival I hope we get to go to again. There were publisher booths for Harlequin Teen, HarperTeen, Disney Hyperion, Penguin Teen, and many others. Book reviewers, editors, agents, all milling around and greeting their youngest and most avid fans.
When asked by one of the event coordinators what she thought about the festival, my mother summed up the weekend perfectly. “Seeing so many young people–boys and girls–spending their hard-earned allowance to buy and carry as many books as they can, patiently waiting in long lines for hours just to get the books signed, and watching them cry when it’s their turn to meet their favorite authors, gives me hope for the future. A generation that reads so passionately is a generation that will one day lead passionately. Because reading well can only lead to wisdom and truth.”
So true, Mom. So very true.
So. Next year. The second week in November. We’ll be in Charleston with our favorite YA authors. Will you join us? We hope so!
All photographs courtesy of Sharon Wray. Copyright 2015.