San Francisco’s ever-growing Litquake festival has just concluded its 13th annual program, with 10 days of events featuring more than 850 authors. And back for its fourth year was Teenquake, the festival’s young adult component, with a new twist – the Teen Lit Olympics.
Teenquake producers Summer Laurie, a children’s book specialist at Books Inc., and Corrine Jackson, author of If I Lie and Touched, knew they wanted to hold some sort of author team event, but they also wanted a teen to join the authors on each team and weren’t sure how to make that happen. With just one week to go before Litquake, the producers launched a teen writing contest, spreading the word on its Facebook and Twitter accounts (#tqolympics), through local libraries, educators, and figment.com, and in a partnership with NaNoWriMo, the organization behind the annual National Novel Writing Month in November.
Through these channels Teenquake issued a challenge to teens to write essays to their future selves; the organizers got the idea from Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves by Miranda Kenneally and E. Kristin Anderson (Zest Books). Fifteen winning participants received medals at the Teenquake event, and then the top two gold medalists were asked to join one of two teams – each made up of “authletes” and one blogger – onstage for a head-to-head reading competition.
Teen gold medalist Kaitlyn Gee anchored Team Blue, the “Fearless Phrasers,” with authors Ingrid Paulson (Valkyrie Rising), Daisy Whitney (The Mockingbirds and The Rivals), and Tamara Ireland Stone (Time Between Us), and blogger Sophie Riggbsy of Mundie Moms. Teen gold medalist Rachel Feder anchored Team Red, a.k.a “Team Geek,” with Jackson, Malinda Lo (Ash and Huntress), C.J. Omololu (Transcendence), and blogger Nancy Sanchez of Tales of a Ravenous Reader. With NANoWriMo’s help, Teenquake issued three writing prompts to the published authors to write stories to read in the competition, and then NaNoWriMo’s Chris Angotti acted as master of ceremonies on stage at the Z Space theater on Teen Lit Olympics day.
After an author from each team read their stories based on the prompt, the bloggers each made a case for their teammate to win the audience’s vote. But the teens on each team stole the spotlight when they read their award-winning stories.
“I bet living like you feels like flying,” Gee wrote to her future self. “I just can’t stand to think that you forgot about me, but I hope you do.”
Feder wrote to her future self about the bravery of returning home after getting away for college and beyond. “I think you’d like to know that you are always looking forward,” she wrote.
Of course, as with any competition, there are winners and losers, and Team Red took the title after a sudden-death tiebreaker that called on the bloggers to compose on the spot. But with all the attention being paid to YA literature, the category – and its readers – came the clear winners.
“After four years Teenquake has hit its stride,” says Laurie. “Partnering with organizations like NaNoWriMo enables us to produce something on a much larger scale then we’d be able to accomplish on our own.” The top five teen medal winners will have their stories published in Litquake’s online magazine.