The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is #ALAyma.
2015 Nonfiction Award finalist Maya Van Wagenen is being honored for her memoir Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek, in which she documents her unique experiences as a contemporary middle schooler seeking the secrets of social success from a 1950s popularity handbook written by former model Betty Cornell. We are so grateful to this busy young author for taking the time to chat with us about her book!
It’s so amazing that you were able to connect with THE Betty Cornell to tell her how much her book meant to you. Have you had any memorable experiences with readers who felt a deep connection with your book?
Meeting and writing to readers has been one of the highlights of this process. I get messages from people in France, the UK, and Russia, as well as all over the United States. Something I remember distinctly happened when I was doing a signing at YALLFest, a young adult book festival in Charleston. A girl approached me with her copy of Popular. It had colored Post-it notes sticking up from half the pages, comments scrawled in the margins, and quotes highlighted and underlined. It was incredible. I’m also pen pals with a fourth grade reader who dressed up as me for Book Character Day at school. The pictures were adorable and I was beyond touched.
Okay, pardon me while I wipe the tears from my eyes… that is so sweet! So, there’s a movie deal for Popular. Please tell us about that! What stage is it in? Is DreamWorks consulting you?
While I can’t discuss the details of the contract, I can say it’s all incredibly exciting! Right now they’re working on the screenplay. I would love to be as involved in the process as they would allow, and I look forward to seeing the script, hopefully in the near future.How do you balance being an author with being a regular high school student? In addition to promoting Popular, I understand you’re working on a novel. How do you manage to do it all?
I’ve gotten pretty good at balancing time. My school allows me three hours a day to write instead of electives and I don’t participate in a lot of extracurricular activities so I can work longer hours. I try to do as much as I can, but it’s impossible to do everything. There have been instances where it was really difficult to sacrifice the normal high school experience. I know, though, that I’m immensely lucky to have these incredible opportunities. I’m learning skills that will help me for the rest of my life. I have grown so much and met so many fantastic people. I wouldn’t trade my busy schedule for the world!
A couple of years have passed since the events you documented in Popular— you survived middle school, and you’re in high school now. Hooray! You got a lot of good advice from Betty Cornell, but what advice would you give to 13-year-old Maya if you could?
I would tell her to believe in the experiment, because publication would be possible, so take more pictures! I would tell her not to doubt herself so much, not to worry that she would give up. I would tell her to spend the most time with interesting and inspiring people who fuel her creativity. I would tell her that two and three years from now, she will see New York and London and sign copies of her book, she will meet authors who will accept her as part of their flock, that she will find her own style and that she will be okay.
I might be shedding more tears over here… thank you, Maya! I really look forward to your next book.
-Allison Tran, currently wearing pearls and listening to Under the Blood-Red Sun by Graham Salisbury