I began the first full day at the 2014 Young Adult Literature Symposium with a session that perfectly suited this year’s “Keeping It Real” theme. Titled “YA Realness: What Makes ‘Contemporary Realism’ Feel True To Readers?” this Saturday morning session featured a self-moderated panel of established authors discussing a range of topics related to contemporary realistic fiction for young adults, including the genre’s authenticity, controversial topics, writing craft, and continued appeal to teens.
In many cases, a panel without a formal moderator could go horribly wrong, but the excellent crew of authors in this particular session instead created a casual and very thoughtful conversation about many aspects of contemporary realism. Matt de la Pena, Coe Booth, Sara Zarr, Sara Ryan, and Jo Knowles are all authors well-known for their varied, popular, and critically acclaimed works of contemporary realistic fiction written for and about young adults.
Sara Zarr started the session off by getting right to the most basic but unavoidable question: “How do you define ‘contemporary realism?” She broke the ice by offering her own, excellent definition of the genre as a story that takes place more or less in the present in which nothing happens that could not feasibly happen in our world and nothing occurs that might violate the space-time continuum. The other panelists chimed in, mentioning their emphases on honesty, emotional truth, and grittiness. Matt de la Pena shared his usual response to questions concerning his preference for realistic fiction over fantasy: “I am so infatuated with the real world that I don’t go there [to supernatural creatures, etc.] creatively….you all have great stories in your lives, you just think they’re normal.” Continue reading YA Lit Symposium: YA Realness – What Makes Contemporary Realism Feel True to Readers?