Wednesday, November 23, 2011

ALAN Workshop

I'm just back from the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents workshop (ALAN), held after the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference. It's an interesting setup. Tables (accomodating 500 this year) are arranged length-wise in one large room, with speakers on a dias and a real minimum of multimedia distraction. I enjoyed having the time to relax and reflect among other readers.

Chicago is always fun, and this trip was no exception. I saw Murder for Two, a two-man murder-mystery spoof, at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. On Saturday, I visited Frank Lloyd Wright's home (as well as other structures he designed in Oak Park) with a friend and her adorable first grader, who is reading Harry Potter. Then Sunday I went to the Palmer House Hilton, co-headquarters hotel, where I was disgorged into a crowd of school teachers. As I have observed before, NCTE seems even more female than AASL.

The ALAN workshop was all day Monday and Tuesday. ALAN is a strange event. There is a compulsive energy in the room, almost an obsession with YA lit that I only catch a whiff of at YALSA events. It is an interesting mix of English teachers, librarians, university professors, and authors. There were tales of larceny (people stealing signed copies) and collapse, as Laurie Halse Anderson passed out, but went on to deliver her speech from a prone position just before being taken off to the hospital. How incredible!

ALAN has an award, named for writer Amelia Elizabeth Walden, for books that should "possess a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit." Francisco Stork won for The Last Summer of the Death Warriors this year, the third time it was awarded. There was also a new award for best paper in the ALAN Journal.

One of the real highlights came in the half-dozen breakout sessions are held for an hour during one time slot each day. Even the most illustrious authors will still not have so many teachers crowded in at breakouts, and you are able to interact with most of them. I went to a particularly good on on Chicago as a setting Monday, and on Tuesday I asked Heather Brewer to inscribe a Vlad Todd book for a student, and she was terribly sweet about it. In contrast, the signings held in the ballroom are famously "silent," and I saw a woman ejected for using packing tape too loudly.

Even with the ensuing relentless queueing for signatures, hearing from the authors in quick succession was rather thrilling. I didn't take a laptop with me, but got by with my iPad and iPhone. I paid $18 for Internet access for one day, and used cell data the rest of the time, quite distracted with the contents of my cardboard box of books. I was thrilled with some I hadn't read (Lola and the Boy Next Door, Every You, Every Me) and some I had (Bitter Melon, Revolution), I was also jealous (of the boxes with Divergent and The Lover's Dictionary, both of which I read but would have liked for school). I began reading Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler's The Future of Us at lunch Tuesday, and I finished it on the flight home.

Next year, both NCTE and ALAN are in Las Vegas. I have marked my calendar.

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