It started as a posse of bestselling YA authors appearing together at a literary festival in the culturally remote outpost of Charleston, S.C. That was in 2011, and now the annual event, known as YALLFest: The Charleston Young Adult Book Festival, has become the largest YA book festival in the South, attracting a mostly teen and middle-school audience of 8,000. It makes sense, then, that YALLFest is ready for its close-up — in 2015, co-organizers Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz are bringing it to the West Coast, as YALLWEST, April 10-12.
Stohl ("Beautiful Creatures") and De La Cruz ("Witches of East End"), busy authors in their own rights, have been organizing the Southeastern festival while living in Southern California. "We thought, we should bring this home," Stohl says.
FOR THE RECORD:
YALLWest book festival: In the Arts & Books section elsewhere in this edition, an article about the young adult book festival YALLWest says that writer Gayle Forman will be there. She will not attend. The error was discovered after the section went to press.
Los Angeles is a city with more than its share of popular YA writers, which makes it ideal for a festival such as this. Among the local organizer-participants are Marie Lu ("Legend") and Tahereh Mafi ("Shatter Me"). Ransom Riggs, whose novel "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is being adapted by Tim Burton, will give the keynote. Pseudonymous Bosch is organizing the festival's middle-grade track, which invites attendees to participate in creating books of their own.
Then there's Veronica Roth, whose dystopic "Divergent" series has inspired one blockbuster film, with a second due out in the spring. Explaining how so many well-known writers will be joining forces for the festival, Stohl says, "YA is a really tight community. It's our tribe."
For the record
Dec. 26, 12:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said that author Gayle Forman will be at YALLWest. She will not attend.
She's right, but it's also more than that: YA has become a force in publishing and pop culture. Trace it back to "The Hunger Games" or "Twilight" or before that, Harry Potter — the stories kids embrace have creative force. Filmmakers turn to books for middle-schoolers and teens to find their next big hit.
At the same time, Young Adult continues to grow as a sector. In the first nine months of 2014, net revenue for YA and children's books was up 22% over the year before, with sales of $1.311 billion. And it's not just kids who are reading: A 2012 survey found that almost a third of YA book buyers are between 30 and 44. Stohl notes that as many as 80% of her readers are adults.
Grown-ups are welcome at the festival, but the focus is on teen readers. "We try to really cater to the teens, to make sure that teens are the priority," De La Cruz says.
"It's very special to us," she adds. "I think it's the only festival that has a spirit of teen irreverence."
The events include panels and signings, a variety show called YA Smackdown with "madcap author tomfoolery" and a bestselling author Libba Bray's YA cover band, Tiger Beat. The venues too are genre appropriate: All events will be held at the Santa Monica Public Library and Santa Monica High School.
"We relate to our readers as peers," says De La Cruz, married and with school-age children. "We write for teens, we work with teens — I love teenagers! We're their champions."
"YA authors identify as readers first," adds Stohl. She too is married and a mother, but admits, "There's a lot of reader fangirling. I'm a giant enormous fangirl."
Stohl describes a YALLFest panel on which she appeared as "the most intense hour of my life." The panel, which included Stohl, Bray, Lauren Oliver and Roth, revolved around anxiety and depression, which is indicative of the seriousness with which YALLWEST will take its audience.
The festival is eager to affirm an identity for itself in part because it is making its West Coast debut just a week before the established Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
De La Cruz admits the timing might be awkward — essentially asking publishers to put up their authors in Los Angeles for the week between the festivals — but these were the dates that worked for the Santa Monica Public Library.
"Santa Monica Public Library has been after this since it first began," Stohl says. Less than a year ago, she went to a meeting to listen to ideas, and the library had already mapped out a plan. "When there's so much support for a book thing – we just said, 'OK, we can do this.'"
The festival's schedule will be announced in coming months; updates are available at yallwest.com.
Events will be appropriate for readers of middle-grade books and YA — anywhere from 8 to 18. Expect a lot of enthusiasm and a small degree of chaos.
"This festival," says Stohl, "rolls with the good-natured mess we all are."