Sunday, December 16, 2012

Event: Young Adult Literature Symposium, Day Two

My recap of day one can be found here.

So, day two started just as bright and early as day one. The first session I attended was "Collapsing Boundaries: Being Hit by Blurred Genres." I was really interested in seeing what this panel would have to say. It's become increasingly difficult to categorize books (not just those for children and teens) as more and more titles are crossing multiple genres. Coming from a library that still puts genre stickers on books and has frantic parents asking for fantasy or mystery books when the dreaded genre assignment comes around, I'm definitely curious about what the professionals have to say about this topic. The presenters, Teri Lesesne and Rosemary Chance, gave a brief introduction to the topic, first defining genre (you all know that "young adult" is not a genre, right?) and then looking at some examples of books that are pretty easy to classify and then more that are a bit trickier. Then, the panel of authors took their time explaining their thoughts on genre. We heard from Helen Frost, A.S. King, and Scott Westerfeld. It was interesting to see that A.S. King didn't really care to categorize her books - they're all just "Amy books," according to her (her first name is Amy, in case you didn't know). I think Westerfeld made a really interesting point as well - he said he feels more free to explore different genres because young adult sections at bookstores and libraries are not as often broken down into genre categories as adult fiction is. Of course, that's not necessarily true nowadays - teen sections at Barnes & Noble have, sadly, broken out a section called "Paranormal Romance" and perhaps others. But, in general, the young adult section is a pretty cohesive unit. Westerfeld believes this gives young adult authors the freedom to explore different genres and readers more permission to read an author because they enjoy their writing, not just because they like that genre. All in all, I thought the authors were wonderful to listen to, and I think the blurring of genres is here to stay. People want to read books that encompass more than one facet of the human experience. Increasingly, they expect a more complex and intricate reading experience - uniting multiple genres is one way to achieve this. The caveat, of course, is that it still must be well-written, no matter how many genres you try to weave together.

The last panel I attended is the other in contention for favorite panel of the symposium: "Guys Talkin' to Guys: What Will Guys Read Next?" This was a fantastic way to end my first symposium. A panel of male authors (Andrew Smith, Antony John, Torrey Maldonado, and Greg Neri) and a panel of local teen guys answered questions about their writing, their reading, their experiences, and more, and interacted with each other and the audience. It was amazing listening to the young men discuss their experiences with reading and books - they were all incredibly articulate and thoughtful and had lots of wonderful things to say. I think, too often, we think we know how teens (not just teen boys, but all teens) will respond to something so we don't bother to let them voice their actual thoughts and feelings. This session really showed me the value of talking to teens and actually listening to what they say. It was also a great experience listening to the authors and their insight into the male mind - most of them echoed the experiences of today's teens, showing that these experiences can be universal and transcend any generational gaps, perceived or actual. The panelists mentioned many things I already knew - guys tend to like cliffhangers, short chapters, a mixture of formats, action and adventure, and non-fiction. But they are not afraid of reading a romance or a book narrated by a girl protagonist. Really, most teens are willing to try new things and will just stop if they decide they don't like something. Like I said, the best part of this panel was hearing from the guys themselves - I wish I could have recorded all their responses.

The very last event of the symposium was a closing session with Scott Westerfeld. I don't have much to say about it - Westerfeld gave a really fascinating presentation on his Leviathan series. He covered the history of illustrated novels (which is what he classes his series as) and discussed the unique aspects of working with an illustrator. Often, Keith Thompson's illustrations would change the way Westerfeld wrote a scene or described something. He even admitted that seeing fan response to a particular character led to him bringing that character back in book three, something he hadn't originally planned. So, even in this session, the topic of fandom and fanfiction and fanart came up. I enjoyed hearing an author's perspective on it - Westerfeld seems to embrace most of it and he talked about how fascinating it was as an author to see which moments fans will latch onto and create from.

Overall, the YA Lit Symposium was worth attending. I find most of the panels thoughtful and engaging; I'm only bummed that I missed others I would have enjoyed because of concurrent time frames. I would definitely like to attend in 2014 - it will be in Austin, TX (my neck of the woods!). Did you attend the Lit Symposium? What things did you learn?

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