My Texas Teen Book Festival Experience (2017)

That time of year again, when the book festivals are rolling into Austin and I am a happy happy happy girl. With Texas Book Festival coming up next week and me trying to furiously catch up on reading some of the authors who are coming, here's some highlights of my Saturday, October 7th: Texas Teen Book Festival!!

We Need Diverse Books Special Event: 

Texas Teen Book Fest partnered with We Need Diverse Books to host an essay contest, where we could submit an essay under 300 words about why we thought diverse books were necessary. The top 30 were invited to a special talk with Adam Silvera, I.W. Gregario, and other librarians/authors/publishers involved with WNDB. I was lucky enough to be able to attend, and it was such a great, comfortable conversation setting. We talked about who had the right to tell whose story, internalized prejudice, the publishing industry, etc. 

It was such an important and honest conversation, and truly a highlight of the day. 

Fiction & Poetry Workshops: 

Badgerdog, a group that puts on creative writing classes for all sorts of writers in Austin, taught two workshops at TTBF and I went to both. It was great to work creatively with a small group and talk about being a writer in a setting full of other writers.

Closing Keynote: 

Absolute YA icon, Jason Reynolds, gave the closing keynote at TTBF and it was probably the best speech I have ever seen in my entire life. Speech probably isn't even the right word- he sat down on the stage and talked in his unbelievable voice about his past and how he came to be a writer, and acknowledge himself as who he was. All while making us crack up every 2 seconds. I was in AWE. 

And then, BEST MOMENT EVER- Some of the authors with WNDB read their favorite essays in front of the entire audience. I.W. Gregario went first, and as she began to read, I recognized my essay!! It was so cool.  
This was my essay: 

For Bigger Hearts
We need diverse books because we need to learn to be human.
Growing up, I was always both an outsider and a reader. Being Asian American, I noticed stark differences between the lives on paper that I read and mine, but I also didn’t identify with the occasional Korean stories my mom read to me. It was a strange love: I was obsessed with books but I couldn’t find myself in any of them. As I grew older, I thought more deeply about the world around me, about concepts like racism and feminism, microaggressions and identity, society and ideology. Yet I couldn’t find the right words, and my thoughts jumbled in my mind like alphabet magnets.

Then I made a commitment to read diverse books. I decided to read a book from every country, while also focusing on fiction written by women and people of color. It was revolutionary. I empathized with characters halfway across the world and truly felt a love and connection with the whole human experience. It was like I was tapping into a universal secret, like I could go anywhere, talk to anyone, and hear their story. I felt empowered. From books came my own words, from my words my mindset, from my mindset my actions.

The time is now for diverse books. Both for the world and for us as teens. We are trying to find ourselves in this beautiful and terrifying place, a place turning increasingly hostile and separated. Reading and writing diverse literature helps outsiders celebrate themselves and insiders experience looking in. Words have the unique power to string together drastically different lives and connect them through hearts. We need diverse books because we deserve diverse books. Because we can spur change through stories. Because through reading, we learn to love.

All in all, it was a pretty incredible day. Because I've largely left the YA world, I didn't know many of the authors there, and was a bit unsure if I'd still have the same experience as before. It was certainly different- I wasn't super excited for panels or signings. But I still got to be around people who loved the written word as much I do, and that was enough :)

Be on the lookout for my day at Texas Book Fest coming soon! Jeffrey Eugenides, Min Jin Lee, Scaachi Koul, ohmygerd I'm SO excited.

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