This is the second installment in my reflections on YALLFest, this time feat. Angie Thomas, who I got to hear speak twice–once in a panel called “The Here and Now”, focused on bringing contemporary issues into ya fiction, and again in the closing keynote with Cassandra Clare. Angie Thomas is not just a hell of a writer, but brilliant and insightful. She said a lot about what writing can do that really resonated with me and made me consider why I write.
The Here and Now Panel consisted of Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, Patrick ness, Zac Brewer, and Kekla Magoon moderating, a frankly astounding array of people. That much awesomeness in one room is practically revolutionary.
“Through fiction we build empathy.” Thomas said this early on during the panel, and it turned into the theme for the hour. Reading a book makes alterity personal. It’s probably the closest you can come to actually living someone else’s life. You have no choice but to walk away from a book with some understanding of the perspective you were immersed in for the duration. This is something that I have long believed to be the prime directive of reading, and why diverse reading is so important, especially for young children.
Thomas also spoke about hope: how hope is not always found in happy endings. Hope can be found in the narrative itself, hope in the fact that change will happen because of this book, hope in someone seeing themselves where they didn’t before. Personally, unhappy endings make me feel like a pillbug caught in the sunlight. But I take her point.
Near the end of the panel, the question was posed: if writing is creating change, then are you [the authors] activists?” The answers that everyone gave were poignant and resonated with me, as this is exactly what I have been struggling with: bridging the gap between activist and author to author as activist.
The response of Nic Stone, author of Dear Martin, was incredible. Activism, she said, is about agitation: it has always been incendiary. Her writing is deliberately inflammatory–she wants people to be uncomfortable reading it. That’s activism: change through uncomfortable confrontation with reality. The discomfort is necessary. Had it been appropriate, I would have been applauding in the theater.
As I was trying to focus and scribble down as many notes as possible, I was also critically examining my own writing. ] What is its purpose? If someone asked me if I was an activist, I would say “I’m trying to be.” If someone asked whether my writing was activism, I honestly don’t know what I’d say. I would want nothing more than to say “yes: I wrote this book to provoke change in the minds of those who read it”. But I don’t know if I’ve earned that through my narrative. And I want to earn it.
*This is the second post in a series reflecting on what I learned at YALLFest, author by author. Stay tuned for next week.*