While writing big portions of her bestselling novel “Beautiful Creatures” at the Santa Monica Public Library, local author Margaret Stohl regularly crossed paths with public services librarian Robert Graves.
Graves knew Stohl had co-founded YALLFEST, a popular young-adult book festival in South Carolina, and he wasn’t shy about sharing his vision.
“(He) said, ‘When are you going to bring that home?'” Stohl said. “He probably said it to me three or four times in a row. I was like, ‘Well, we should talk about it.’ But he wasted no time. I thought I’d meet him for coffee, and he had already assembled everyone in a legit meeting.”
Their early interactions spawned YALLWEST, which will be held April 11-12 in Santa Monica. It’s the West Coast debut of an event that will bring together hundreds of authors and fans for a full-fledged celebration of the young-adult genre, which has recently turned out wildly popular series like “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games.”
“The fiction that often appeals to teen audiences — stories of isolation, rebellion, seeking their place in the world — are themes that everyone understands,” Graves said. “Adults were once teenagers, so they understand the stories being told and enjoy escaping back into the world with a Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen.”
The library has been preparing for the festival since last summer, and Graves said numerous volunteers — including public and school librarians from throughout Southern California — have jumped at the chance to participate in such a large-scale event.
He added that the library benefits immensely from hosting a festival like YALLWEST.
“Our line-up is world-class, and the fact that a small city municipal system like ours was able to pull something like this off in such a big way is impressive,” he said. “We’re very lucky that the authors chose the Santa Monica Public Library as the organization they wanted to work with.”
According to Graves, the Santa Monica Public Library is the only system in Southern California that has received a five-star ranking from Library Journal and the most frequent host of author events other than the Los Angeles system’s main downtown facility.
“I’m biased, but I know from experience that the Santa Monica Public Library is a world-class system,” he said. “We’ve developed strong relationships with publishers and authors who often want to make Santa Monica a stop on their national book tours.”
Aiming to be broad in scope, YALLWEST will feature authors as well as artists, musicians — including the Santa Monica High School jazz band — and Hollywood professionals.
Santa Monica resident Ransom Riggs, author of the bestselling novel “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” which Tim Burton will bring to the big screen in 2016, will give the inaugural keynote address.
“Whether books or TV or movies, L.A. is a town that loves to tell stories,” Riggs said in a press release. “I’ve studied film here and I’ve written books here — and a festival that celebrates both is a great fit for me and for YA.”
As a way to promote literacy, organizers have reached out to scores of area schools and invited hundreds of low-income students to the festival. They have also worked with the local school district to stock a few campus libraries with books written by authors who will attend the festival.
Stohl said panel authors will share their personal struggles, not just with writing their famous novels but also with issues like depression, anxiety and ADHD.
“You share your life with your readers, and they share theirs with you,” she said. “People spend a lot of time setting up these events, but then what really matters is the programming. What are the actual conversations that are going to be had? … Teens can smell (fakeness) from a mile away. You can’t get phony stuff past them. You have to be prepared to be open, to share your actual self, and you can’t phone it in.”
Stohl said she has enjoyed collaborating with her peers to bring YALLWEST to Santa Monica.
“When you take a bunch of people and put them in a situation to do a labor of love, it’s a miraculous thing,” Stohl said. “It’s not for profit, and it’s ridiculous how much time it all takes, how much labor there is in a labor of love. But everyone who comes has that shared purpose. It’s amazing. … The town is pulling for this. It leads me to believe we needed one of these.”
Events on April 11 will be held from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Santa Monica High School, 601 Pico Blvd. The festival continues from noon to 5 p.m. April 12 at the library, 601 Santa Monica Blvd. For more information, visit www.yallwest.com.
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, email@example.com or on Twitter.