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September 26, 2014

Brooklyn Book Festival - Post 2


Last weekend, Teen Board Member Maya B. got the chance to go to one of the most exciting book fairs in the country  --- the Brooklyn Book Festival! In her post, she breaks down one of her favortie panels --- New York, New York. Read below to learn more about her experience, and be sure to check out our other Brooklyn Book Festival post, from Teenreads intern Rebecca Czochor!

On Sunday, September 21st, I went to the Brooklyn Book Festival and saw a wonderful presentation on New York and why it was important to three accomplished writers: Jason Reynolds (WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST), Rebecca Stead (LIAR & SPY) and Coe Booth (KINDA LIKE BROTHERS).  They mostly focused on one basic theme throughout the presentation: Why New York?  Many of the authors’ answers were intriguing and inspiring, including remarks I'll remember for the rest of my life.

When the authors were asked "Why New York?" Coe Booth and Rebecca Stead told us that it's where they grew up and knew.  Jason Reynolds, however, had grown up in Washington, D.C. and had a different take.  "You could write anything and it could sorta be true," he explained, smiling. "You could write about a man on a tightrope crossing from skyscraper to skyscraper, a homeless man dressed as Madonna, or a woman who ate 50 pizzas, and in New York City, it could all be true."  He told us that everything is so big and impossible in New York, and "moving here [to New York City] was like moving into someone else's book."

On the topic of community in NYC, Rebecca Stead said that writing was a lonely job and the writing community in NYC is really great.  She even stated that if there wasn't such a great community she didn't think she would still be writing. There are so many opportunities here in New York, Reynolds added, and nothing comes close.  Not only is the writing community in New York wonderful, the population as a whole is fun and quirky.  Booth laughed, saying that "people will tell you their whole life stories in a Laundromat."

According to Reynolds, it's not just the community --- there's something magical about this city.  Of course, a lot of New York City is dirty, smelly and old, so how could it possibly be so magical?  "The grit is the magic." Reynolds told us.  He noted the bustling herds of people funneling out of the Subway, the gum sticking to the cracked sidewalks, layered graffiti on sides of buildings --- it's all kind of awesome.  Stead told us that it's the details that matter, the little things that gather and become a city.  While Reynolds's favorite part of the city was West Village, Stead said she really didn't have a particular part that she liked best.  She told us that her favorite place in NYC is "just walking down the street."

With all this hustle and bustle, where do they go to write?  Reynolds said that he works best at coffee shops and Stead trained herself to work at home.  Booth told us that she would love to work in a coffee shop, but there aren't any in the Bronx.  Instead, she has an app called "Coffitivity" that plays coffee shop sounds as she works at home.

None of them start with any kind of writing plan.  Booth said "I don't know how people write outlines.  I wish I had an outline."  Reynolds chimed in saying, "It's a mess until it's over."  Reynolds also said that he hadn't really thought about writing for teens versus children or adults. However, Booth always knew that she wanted to write for teenagers.  "It's full of firsts" she said. "It's a very exciting time."  Stead writes for middle schoolers, mostly in their pre-teens.  Upon being asked why she chose this age group, she said that "It's an incredibly interesting time of life.  Questions I had then I still don't have answers for."

Their last question was about their advice for aspiring writers.  They all had completely different but true and wise answers.  "Don't let anyone discourage you." Booth said.  "There'll be a lot of people rolling their eyes at you, telling you that you can't do it.  Don't listen to them." Stead, for her part, urged not to "be fooled into thinking that great writers write great first drafts." Stead that it may be frustrating rewriting and editing, but have patience.  Reynolds advised aspiring writers to read a lot. "Read as much as you possibly can." He said that if you read whatever you can get your hands on, it can all be used as tools for future writing.

New York City is a magical, hectic, quirky and fun place.  It's a perfect setting for a story where anything can happen just walking down the street.  You might see your idol in a coffee shop or talk for hours with a stranger in a Laundromat. New York left me with the feeling that anything was possible, making it the perfect setting for a book festival!

Maya B. is a Teen Board member.