I have not felt more at home than I did this past weekend during YALLSTAYHOME. It is normally called YALLWest and would have taken place at Santa Monica, but due to the coronavirus, it became YALLSTAYHOME in the format of several consecutive Zoom meetings. Attendees could pick and register for the specific meeting they wanted to attend and registration could include entering to win some of the fun book giveaways if so desired. YALLWest is the sister festival to YALLFest and both festivals are celebrations of the reading and writing world, with a focus on YA authors. I registered for as many panels I was interested in, but due to my schedule, I was not able to attend all the ones I registered for. However, cross my fingers that because I registered, later I will get a link to each recorded session. Hoping for the best here, guys!
Anyway, the whole festival ran from Friday, April 24 – Sunday, April 26 and here are the panels I registered for: Fierce Friday: Create Your Own Fantasy Story, I Read YA@Home, Opening Ceremony + Keynote, Creativity in the Time of Corona, Modern Magic Worldbuilding, This American Experience, PM Keynote with Brandon Sanderson, YALLSTAYHOME Smackdown, Suckage is Part of Writing, Remember High School?, and Writing Empathy. There were so many others as well that I did not register for just because I did not have room in my schedule! There were so many authors there including Marie Lu, Julie Buxbaum, Leah Johnson, Marisa Kanter, Bill Konigsberg, Alex London, Samuel Miller, Zan Romanoff, Tara Sim, Angie Thomas, Maggie Tokuda-Hall, and F.C. Yee.
I have got to say, I want to read all of their books!! And…I felt like Belle when she opens her eyes for the first time inside Beast’s library. With each panel I learned all about each author’s background and writing journey and in the case of Brandon Sanderson, got to meet his pet macaw as well. With each panel I learned the struggle is real during this pandemic. Many authors feel that it is harder to write staying inside all the time. I learned stuff like you can build a world based off of your main character’s needs and it’s important to write your truth and teens go to novels as a form of escape, some making more friends with the characters in the books than in real life and there is a now a lot more representation from Asian authors to Muslim authors to queer authors to biracial authors. A lot of times someone becomes an author because they weren’t reading books with their race or culture represented, so they became the first to write that representation. That is awesome!
It was also awesome to finally experience the Smackdown. I had read about it beforehand and I really looked forward to it. The Smackdown did not disappoint: Dumbledope and Snape Dog were there for starters, and it kicked off with a Cards Against Humanity type of game and I only just learned how to play this game a couple months ago, pre-coronavirus and a Harry Potter version, no less. Let me tell you there is nothing more LOL than this game. There was another segment a lot like MTV Cribs and then a Pet Roast and finally a dance party at the end. Once coronavirus is over this festival is definitely on my top ten list of places want to go to for real.
Finally, noticing there are a lot more Asian authors out there now made me feel comforted and happy and giddy. I seriously could not stop smiling. Then I noticed how welcoming and inviting and safe these panels were. It didn’t matter what someone’s background was, everyone was open to listening to everyone’s stories and where they came from and how they got into writing. I realized writing = life. There’s going to be racism, suicide, queer life, privileged life, and everything else in between in stories and everyone accepts this as is. Many of the authors mentioned inspiration can come from anywhere and even talked about how writing can get so hard sometimes you end up playing a video game instead of writing sometimes. I could not agree more. I love how relatable each of the panels were and I truly felt right at home. I left the festival with a feeling I’ve known all along and just needed a little reminder: This, reading and writing and talking about reading and writing until the cows come home, is the community I belong in.