Main Library (File photo)

On Saturday, April 11, and Sunday, April 12, authors and readers from all over the United States, as well as Canada and Japan, will descend on Santa Monica to attend the first-ever YALLWEST Book Festival.

What’s YALLWEST and how did it end up in Santa Monica?

YALLWEST is a sibling festival to YALLFest, a massive book festival devoted solely to authors of young adult and middle grade books, held each autumn in Charleston, South Carolina. Now approaching its fifth anniversary, YALLFest was founded by a group of young adult authors who wanted to bring fans together in a single place and celebrate their love of literature. YALLFest’s first year featured a couple dozen authors and drew close to 1,500 attendees. Their fourth annual fest, held last November, featured 60 authors and drew nearly 8,000 attendees.

Among YALLFest’s founding authors was Santa Monican Margaret Stohl, and Los Angelenos Kami Garcia, Pseudonymous Bosch and Melissa de la Cruz, a group with a strong connection with Santa Monica Public Library. Stohl and Garcia, who co-wrote the bestselling “Beautiful Creatures” book series, and Bosch, who is responsible for the wildly-popular middle grade “Secret Series,” even wrote their first books in the study rooms at SMPL’s Main Library. While attending a book tour presentation by Bosch at SMPL in April 2013, Stohl off-handedly suggested that the Main Library would be a great place to hold a west coast version of YALLFest, and thus a seed was planted. When new City Librarian Maria Carpenter arrived in Santa Monica looking for fresh ideas for the library, Adult Services Librarian Robert Graves and Teen Services Librarian Ivy Weston arranged a meeting with her and the YALLFest Author Board, and YALLWEST was officially born.

The initial plan was to think small, starting with a couple dozen authors, but the combination of YALLFest’s reputation with authors and the allure of Santa Monica as a desirable destination point for authors and readers alike quickly ramped up the festival. By the time the author line-up was first announced, the list of those attending had swelled to nearly 80, and the festival was spread across two days, in two locations, at the tail end of spring break 2015. The first day of the festival was set for Saturday, April 11, on the campus of Santa Monica High School, and the second day for April 12 at SMPL’s Main Library. The festival also took on a host of book and other media companies as sponsors, including presenting sponsor Epic Reads, an online YA-focused portal hosted by HarperCollins.

Who’s coming to YALLWEST?

The author roster is too large to repeat in this article, but a full line-up can be found on the festival’s website at Author Veronica Roth, whose book “Insurgent” is the source of this weekend’s likely movie box office champ, is set to headline in a keynote discussion with Los Angeleno Marie Lu (“The Young Elites”). Santa Monican Ransom Riggs (“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”) and Los Angelenos Leigh Bardugo (“Shadow and Bone”) and Marissa Meyer (“Cinder”) are also set for keynote talks. Other major highlights of the fest include Libba Bray (“The Diviners”), who will perform in concert with her all-YA author band Tiger Beat, plus recent National Book Award finalist John Corey Whaley (“Noggin”), TV series and graphic novel creators Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante DiMartino and Gene Luen Yang (“Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Rift”), movie producer Wyck Godfrey (“The Fault in Our Stars”), prolific movie director Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight, The Lords of Dogtown”), and so many more.

In addition to the authors, Hollywood notables and book illustrators who will be attending are readers from all around the country. Librarian Robert Graves has even heard from fans as far away as Canada and Japan, asking for advice on hotels and other amenities while staying in Santa Monica. The festival will also feature book signings, music, games, prizes and food trucks on both days, in both locations.

Why should Santa Monicans and Angelenos come?

YALLWEST is aiming to become an annual event. With the roster we’ve accumulated, we’ve quickly become probably the single largest gathering of young adult and middle grade authors anywhere in the world. We want to show the authors, visiting readers and even local residents that Santa Monica is a book city full of book lovers. YALLWEST advances the library’s goals of promoting literacy and a spirit of lifelong learning. But beyond all of that, it’s just plain fun! And almost entirely free! The only ticketed events are the Keynotes and YA Smackdown, which are ticketed due to expected seating demand. More info on those tickets can be found on the YALLWEST website. The rest of the panels and book signings are free. Barnes & Noble of Santa Monica will provide book sales on site, but fans are also welcome to bring books they already own.

Latest developments

To keep up with everything YALLWEST-related, bookmark and follow us on social media. We’re on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and lots more. And if you interact with us, remember to tag us with @YALLWEST and @SantaMonicaLibr.

Robert Graves is a Public Services Librarian at the Santa Monica Public Library and the Chair of the Santa Monica Reads Selection Committee. You can also follow him on Twitter @RobertGravesLA.

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