by le Hab
At le Hab, we often hear people ask, “What’s YA?” So, we were delighted to see Zu Vincent’s workshop, titled “Is Your Novel So Yesterday? Uncover Today’s YA!” on the list of Wordfire offerings. Vincent, whose YA (read Young Adult) novel, The Lucky Place, has appeared on awards lists each year since its publication in 2008, graduated from Vermont College’s MFA in Creative Writing program. VCFA alums and faculty form a veritable who’s who in the genre, including three National Book Award nominees last year. Which got us thinking, if anyone should know how to answer the “What’s YA” question, a VCFA graduate and YA author should, right? So, we asked Vincent to walk us through the finer points of YA literature.
le Hab: What defines the YA genre from your perspective?
ZV: The truly great thing is the range of themes and styles being offered on YA shelves. There are some wonderfully edgy and innovative things going on in YA today.
And, you know YA has come of age when you see so many writers of adult novelists crossing over to write young adult books. It’s become a popular place to be as a writer, partly because of movie/book tie-ins such as Hunger Games, but also because there seems to be a hunger for this genre as a whole. YA books are being taken up by adult readers who like their length and subject matter, and YA books are being repackaged as adult novels.
le Hab: As a writer, do you approach a YA novel differently than an adult novel? I know you’ve written both….
ZV: We’ll be talking about this in my workshop, but many aspects of YA are being invented right now, with so many writers turning to this genre. Some aspects that are often true to the genre include the idea of a smaller canvas, immediacy, and currency.
le Hab: And do you think that immediacy is what defines YA?
ZV: There’s something about YA novels that can really foster a kinship with readers. Perhaps it’s the accessibility. I know personally, I’ve had readers of all ages reading my YA novel The Lucky Place— literally ranging in age from 8 to 80. And one of the most rewarding things that’s happened to me as a novelist is having first time readers (in particular I’m remembering one 75-year old gentleman) tell me my novel is the first book they’ve ever read cover to cover in their lives. What is more important than helping foster a love of reading and writing, especially in the young? Think about your own first experience as a reader, how that sticks with you.
le Hab: My first experience was being read to by someone who was fabulous at creating character voices. I sort of miss having those distinct voices now, when I read a book. I think the closest was hearing Frank McCourt read Angela’s Ashes in that lovely Irish accent of his. Who would you suggest people read to get a sense of the range of the genre?
ZV: That’s another aspect of my workshop! In general the award winners are a great place to start: the Newbery and Caldecott Medal winners, the National Book Awards, the ALA—
le Hab: ALA?
ZV: American Library Association. Libraries and librarians are good places to start, too.
le Hab: Speaking of educational resources, do you think YA has benefits in a classroom that other genres might not?
ZV: Once you really begin to understand YA literature you realize what a wide ranging genre it is. Which is to say, literature is literature. So just as there are novels written for adults that you both would and wouldn’t want to use in the classroom, there are many YA novels that work well, along with those that might not be ideal. The most interesting YA books are often the “quiet” reads, which can be very edgy and innovative, as I’ve said, and entice readers with current themes and interesting voices, using a variety of cultural and social issues that speak to a variety of readers from many different backgrounds. It’s so powerful to know that as a reader, you can relate to the characters in a book because the author is writing about your people, and your life.
le Hab: Definitely. The books I still remember are the ones that I was sure were about me, or the ones I desperately wanted to live in. You’ve already given us a couple of spoiler alerts from your workshop, but what else can attendees expect?
ZV: We’ll be looking at novel writing in general and YA novels in particular, so you don’t have to want to write a YA novel to attend my workshop. In other words, in exploring what editors and agents are looking for in today’s YA novels, we’ll also be uncovering what makes any novel work, since the heart of a good story is always the same.
We couldn’t talk Vincent into giving up the secrets to good stories and enticing novels, so you’ll have to attend her workshop at the Wordfire conference, hosted by Butte College, this Saturday, April 28, to find out those answers. For more info, visit buttewordfire.org or zuvincent.com.
All of us at le Hab hope to see you at the conference!