NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On May 1, five critically acclaimed writers were invited to a Young Adult & Juvenile literature conference at the Rutgers Barnes & Noble on Somerset Street.
Entitled "The All Ages Show: Rutgers University’s First Annual YA & Juvenile Fiction Conference,” the conference invited young and old readers alike to learn more about the authors whose work crosses demographics and appeal to all ages.
Conducted by Rutgers Creative Writing Professor Alex Dawson, the conference hosted theatrical novel readings, meet and greets with the invited authors, and a discussion panel dedicated to discussing contemporary issues in Young Adult and Juvenile literature.
The conference was hosted in the clock tower section of the campus bookstore, and with collaboration between Rutgers University, the University’s Writers House learning community, and with co-sponsorship from the Undergraduate Academic Affairs department.
With four dozen black folding chairs set up for attendees in the clock tower section of the campus bookstore, “The All Ages Show” began at 10 AM with a series of readings from each author’s published Young Adult & Juvenile works, followed by a book signing session, and a Q&A panel with the conference’s invited authors.
The conference remained packed throughout the late morning and early afternoon – often with standing room only.
Among the five invited panelists included TIME Magazine head book critic Lev Grossman, award-winning best-selling writer Catherynne Valente, and critically-received authors Clay McLeod Chapman, Aaron Starmer, and Claire Legrand.
Each of the five writers were invited to talk freely about their experiences within the industry, covering such topics as a writer’s first novel, Young Adult & Juvenile genre classification, and the importance of discussing mature themes in children’s literature.
Although each writer expressed their own unique approach to writing, the five authors often shared similar experiences within the industry – including push-back from parents, struggles with early novel writing, and building self-discipline within the craft.
Catherynne Valente, author of the “Fairyland” fantasy series and “Too Smart for Kids” children’s literature essay, argued that children are fully capable of handling mature concepts across literary narratives.
Citing such works as Lewis Carroll’s satirical “Alice in Wonderland,” and Norton Juster's fantastical "The Phantom Tollbooth,” Valente argued that children’s literature should challenge young readers in ways which are both welcoming and engaging.
Likewise, author Lev Grossman noted how his critically acclaimed Fantasy novel series “The Magicians” was originally written for adults, yet became highly popular among Young Adult readers.
The panel also speculated about the future of the Young Adult & Juvenile genre, citing such works as the Cartoon Network television series “Adventure Time” for its popularity across age groups.
Originally premiered in 2010, Valente applauded the Cartoon Network animated cartoon for presenting interesting narratives that appealed to young viewers, while simultaneously discussing such mature, real world themes as death and socio-cultural constructions of beauty.
As Valente noted, “Kids are in the real world all the time.”
And for many of the panelists, Young Adult & Juvenile fiction gave the writers an opportunity to discuss childhood experiences in welcoming, yet mature, children’s narratives.
As "The All Ages Show" came to a close, Dawson asked the authors to boil down their years of writing experience into one line of advice, to leave the attendees with a few, final “wise words.“
“Read everyday. Write everyday. Then write the novel you yourself want to read,” said Grossman.
Serving as a co-presenter for “The All Ages Show,” Writers House is a Rutgers University learning community dedicated to “the experience of creativity and serves as a laboratory for developing expression in all the media of the twenty-first century,” according to the House’s official website.
The creative learning community is located on the first floor of Murray Hall, in Room 035.