It was gray, gloomy, and threatening to rain all day. Parking was miserable (to say the least,) and let’s face it, the Baltimore Inner Harbor isn’t the most picturesque or cleanest thing to look at even on the nicest of days (as evidenced by the dead turtle that washed up and drew a lot of disgusted on-lookers).
Despite all the tick-marks against it, I had a fabulous time at the Baltimore Book Festival and it was well worth the headaches. I didn’t get to do nearly everything I wanted to do (the words with strangers board was looking pretty awesome!), but who really accomplishes their entire itinerary at these things? I did, however get to attend the two events that I absolutely HAD to go to and have been looking forward to since they were announced. The first being “Wes Moore, The Work: My Search for a Life That Matters” and the second being “Young Adult Fiction: Fantastic Tales for Teens (And Grown Ups, Too!)”
Wes Moore, The Work: My Search for a Life That Matters
If you don’t know who Wes Moore is, look him up. He’s great. He grew up poor in the streets of Baltimore and truly made something of himself. He’s a Johns Hopkins Graduate, Oxford Rhodes Scholar, Afghan vet, social activist, and most-recently, a writer. His first book, The Other Wes Moore, explains the parallels between himself and a gentleman who shares the same name, grew up under similar circumstances and in the same neighborhood as Wes, but chose a very different path for his life, culminating in a stay at a federal penitentiary. His most recent book, The Work, which he came to the festival to promote, chronicles Mr. Moore’s search for something meaningful to do with his life.
He opened the discussion in much the same way as he opened his key-notespeech at my college graduation (which, I’m ashamed to admit, was the only reason I’d ever heard of him in the first place). He spoke about the experience of a college freshman and how every time you turn around somebody is asking you “What’s your major.” At the time, this seems like the most important question in the world, but in retrospect, it’s really not. He went on to say that the most important question in life that you will ever be asked is “Who did you stand up for?” He pointed out that while your GPA, alma mater, and yes, your major, are important factors in your life and its direction, the most important factor is you. What can you change in the world? What are you passionate about? What sets a fire inside of you? Obviously, he used the recent unrest and resulting activism in Baltimore as an example, but I think everybody in the room had something different and personal in their minds when he was speaking.
His panel ended with a question from a young man in the audience about how to rise above the stigmas attributed to him as a young African-American man. Mr. Moore’s response was perfect. He reflected on one of his visits with the other Wes Moore in prison. He asked him “Do you believe people are a product of their environment?” The imprisoned Wes Moore answered simply, “No, people are a product of their expectations.” I felt that this was the perfect way to end the discussion. When thinking about how you can make a positive impact on the world around you, your degree, how you grew up, your age, your race, etcetera are simply statistical representations of your environment. The most important thing that will impact who or what you stand up for, and what affect you will have in doing so, is the expectations you have for yourself. If you expect to fail, you will. If you expect to succeed you will. It’s as simple as that.
Young Adult Fiction: Fantastic Tales for Teens (And Grown Ups, Too!)
The second event I attended was far less poignant, but no less interesting. Moderated by Kami Garcia (best known for Beautiful Creatures), the panel also featured 6 other well-known YA authors (Jennifer L. Armentrout, Martina Boone, Cheryl Klam, Melissa Marr, Lea Nolan, and MD Waters). While the purpose of the panel was to discuss why adults comprise so much of the readership of YA novels, what it turned into was far more interesting. The authors mostly discussed what classifies a novel as “YA” and how different publishers and editors expect and allow different content from their authors. It was interesting to hear about the publishing process and hilarious to listen to the authors more-or-less making fun of their genre. They spoke about book banning in libraries and bookstores and one of them even off-handedly mentioned how she writes with the express purpose of TRYING to get banned. Also on the discussion docket was unintentional themes found in their writing. Kami Garcia, for instance, always seems to write novels in which the mothers are all evil or dead. One of the other authors on the panel suggested that all a reader needs to do is look for a common theme and they’ll know what an author discusses with their therapist….These ladies seriously had me cracking up the entire hour with their bluntness, sarcasm and dry humor.
My favorite part of the panel was when a young blogger (whom I happened to be sitting next to, in the front row, because I’m THAT girl) asked them what kind of impact the book blogging community has on them and their industry. It was AWESOME to hear that the blogging community is as important to them as they are to us! They mentioned that before book blogging took off, there were only really two places to get your book reviewed, and if they didn’t like you (ie: you had the slightest bit of romance or teenage angst in your book), you were completely screwed. Feeling pretty good after that, I got up the nerve to approach the signing table after the panel (HELLOOO I DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS). I had the pleasure of meeting Kami Garcia, and, when she tried to strike up a conversation, I, in all my fan girl-ness, stood there and stammered unintelligibly. Yeah. It was that bad. So bad, in fact, that I felt the need to apologize on Twitter. BUT, I did manage to get my book signed, so all’s well that ends well 🙂