It started over coffee.
“I started working at One More Page to bring more teen festivals and connections to the store,” explained Danielle Ellison, the main coordinator behind NoVa Teen Book Festival. “My first act was connecting with Nico Piro, one of the teen librarians at Arlington Central Library. We had coffee to discuss some ways we could offer support to each other, and at the end of this meeting I asked Nico, ‘If you could do anything at all what would it be?'”
Piro replied, “Something epic that will put us on the map as a stop for teen authors.” That was the key to Danielle’s “crazy idea” – a crazy idea that will soon manifest as a free festival full of authors, books and events for the Arlington, Virginia area.
“Everyone was super excited and supportive of the idea of a teen festival,” said Ellison. “People kept stepping up and wanting to be involved–and now here we are.”
Ellison noted that she was fortunate to draw in some awesome sponsors to help NoVA Teen Book Festival to come to fruition.
“Arlington Central Library was the first involved because we sort of dreamed it up together. Then one day at work, Ted Kavich from Fairfax Co. Libraries came in and we were talking about this. And then, he wanted to join up.”
Ellison reached out to Fall for the Book, a two-day literary festival also in the area, and they happily joined in as another sponsor. From there, things kept falling into place.
“Fairfax and Arlington County schools came on when we decided to bring authors to various schools in Northern Virginia…we also have some local businesses and organizations involved too. It really was all these people excited about this event and what it could be for teens in our area.”
One of the aspects of the sponsors that Ellison most enjoys is the fact that everyone is bringing something to the table.
“Some are offering financial support, some are bringing in authors, providing meals or travel, offering up time to help plan, finding volunteers, printing information, allowing us to use their spaces,” said Ellison. “It’s really an all hands in kind of thing and that’s what makes it exciting. People who love books and teens and Northern Virginia all banding together for one purpose.”
It is this shared enthusiasm for books, and the teens that love them, that Ellison finds most rewarding.
“From the local librarians to the teachers to the authors to my co-workers and every single volunteer and sponsor…I’d say if this wasn’t something we were all passionate about–and even more, if we didn’t know that teens in our area are hungry for opportunities to grow, learn, and experience– then I don’t think we’d do it. We want to provide these unique experiences.”
The fact that she is providing a service that wasn’t available to her as a teenager has also encouraged Ellison.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t know people wrote books. I thought they just appeared,” laughed Ellison. “I never had opportunities like this to be with people who loved something as much as I did, or to meet authors who wrote books that I loved. Being able to offer that opportunity to other teens who are hungry for it is a rewarding experience.”
When asked which authors readers might particularly be excited for, Ellison exclaimed, “All of them! It’s going to depend on the reader. When we went into this, I wanted to get a diverse readership involved. We have authors who write all genres, and some authors who are well-known, and others that are starting out. We tried to include as many of our local authors in some way, and bring in authors who have never been to this area.”
Ellison and the librarians on the team had meetings to discuss which authors might fit their festival’s approach, and location.
“NoVa is a diverse area, and we wanted to reflect that,” said Ellison. “I think there’s something for everyone, whether you like contemporaries or murder mysteries or sci-fi. I’m excited to see how they all come together, and even more excited about the idea of a reader discovering an author that isn’t what they’d typically read.”
There has been plenty of enthusiasm from the author side of participants as well. Elle Cosimano, whose debut novel Nearly Gone will release in winter 2014, is excited to make contact with teen readers.
“You do not want to miss this event. It’s going to be a powerful, not-from-concentrate, 100% day of pure awesome,” said Cosimano.
Other authors that readers will want to keep an eye out for at the festival include Jessica Spotswood (Cahill Witch Chronicles), Jon Skovron (Man Made Boy), Claudia Gray (Evernight) and Marie Lu (Legend). A full listing of authors that will be attending is available on the festival’s blog.
“Participants can come expecting a lot of fun!” said Ellison. “I’ve talked with all these authors, and I think the panels and breakouts are going to be not only entertaining, but also thought-provoking. We have a ton of passionate and genuine authors joining us.”
For those who want to roll their sleeves up and help with preparations, Ellison offered up volunteer opportunities.
“I’m not sure, at this point, how many more volunteers we need – but if anyone is interested they can email us. We’ll need people to serve in a few different areas during the event. A large portion of our volunteers currently are local teens. This is for them!”
Book bloggers are welcome to volunteer, but Ellison encourages them to relax and have a good time. She does hope that participants will stay in touch during and after the event, though.
“Say hello to us, talk about it before, bring your friends, and when it’s all over, to blog about the experience. We’d love to be able to do it again, and this year’s success is going to determine what we’re able to do in the future.”
Even if a reader cannot come to NoVa Teen Book Festival, they still can be part of the buzz in spreading the word, for this event and others.
“You can still celebrate YA by reading books, supporting authors, and sharing your excitement. All this is an avenue to connect with authors, stories, booksellers and readers,” said Ellison.
Ellison suggests that participants arrive early so they can find a good seat, and to bring water and snacks. “And bring money so that you can buy books, because you’ll definitely want some of these titles once you hear the authors talk!”
Of course, a good book festival is also about connections, and Ellison wants participants to mingle and network with other like-minded readers. “Talk to new people. Some of the best people you can meet are people in a place fangirling over things that you love as well.”
Even though the festival remains weeks away, Ellison feels that she is already reaping the rewards from being part of it.
“We say this event is ‘celebrating YA’ because that’s what we’re doing. As someone involved in YA publishing across many formats, it’s already rewarding for me to be part of this: to celebrate young adult fiction, those who read it, write it, and love it.”
The NoVA Teen Book Festival will run this year on March 8, 2014. There will be no admission charged. For more information, check out the NoVa Teen Book Festival blog.