The end of June marked my long-awaited return to the annual American Library Association conference in Washington, DC, for a whirlwind Saturday. As a teen librarian, I was actively involved in YALSA, ultimately serving two years on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee, where I made lifelong friendships with voracious readers who, well, just so happened to be fellow librarians. (What a coincidence, right?!)
My very first ALA conference was in Washington, D.C. and so it felt particularly meaningful to make my author debut in the nation’s capital, especially after such a long hiatus from in-person events. I kicked off the day moderating a panel with four incredible 2022 debut authors–Susan Azim Boyer, Dannie M. Olguin, Erik Jon Slangerup, and Lindsay S. Zrull– talking about how to use kid-lit to reach at-risk youth. After doing virtual book events for the past two years, I couldn’t help but notice how palpably different it felt to have a real live audience in the room, especially because the subject matter of our panel led to a conversation tinged with vulnerability and emotion. Wearing my moderator hat, I was admittedly briefly nervous about how quickly we were moving through our prepared questions, but at the midway point, I invited the audience to participate, and in my opinion, that’s when the panel really got going. The exchanges between librarians and these debut authors was so powerful I was honestly almost in tears. It takes so much to be vulnerable on a stage, especially when, for many of them, it was their first time appearing in public as authors. I was truly in awe and so proud of how they did! (A mama bear moment, indeed.)
Now, as a teen librarian, the ALA exhibit halls were always a highlight. I stalked those exhibit halls, eager to snag ARCs of the hottest books and my patrons’ favorite authors (and, okay, some of mine too!). But as an author this time around, the exhibit halls served a different purpose. I was not trying to go home with 50+ ARCs as in years past (ouch, my shoulders!) but eager to see familiar faces behind booths. It was such a treat to stop by the booths of my three publishers– Chronicle, the home of my next book (coming in fall 2023), Simon & Schuster, home to Where We Used to Roam and Things You Can’t Say, and Penguin Random House, which published The Distance to Home and 14 Hollow Road. I saw three of my former editors, met folks from the marketing and school and library teams, chatted with friends from VCFA and my librarian days, and even ran into an old friend from middle school who works in children’s publishing!
While I managed to control myself on the exhibit floor, I didn’t exactly go home empty-handed. I picked up enough books to fill out my small tote. And after seeing R.L. Stine speak in one of the big ballrooms upstairs, my day at ALA was complete. (Though I hoped to attend a publishing event at 9 pm, my conference stamina isn’t what it once was, and I was in my hotel bed watching baseball by 8 pm.)
All in all, it was a whirlwind day that reminded me how much I’ve missed the past few years. Large gatherings like this serve a distinct purpose. They also fuel my sense of purpose. It was so meaningful to connect with librarians. To remember how much they have authors’ back and vice versa. And to be reminded of the immense power books have in connecting people.