Chicago Reads: Coming of Age at the End of Nature

On November 3rd, I attended the reading for Coming of Age at the End of Nature at the wonderful 57th Street Books in Hyde Park. Our own Lizzie Cooke was a contributor to this anthology and a speaker at the event. She was joined by James Orbesen, another contributor, and Mark Magoon as moderator.


About the book: “Coming of Age at the End of Nature” explores a new kind of environmental writing. This powerful anthology gathers the passionate voices of young writers who have grown up in an environmentally damaged and compromised world. Each contributor has come of age since Bill McKibben foretold the doom of humanity’s ancient relationship with a pristine earth in his prescient 1988 warning of climate change, The End of Nature.

What happens to individuals and societies when their most fundamental cultural, historical, and ecological bonds weaken—or snap? In “Coming of Age at the End of Nature,” insightful millennials express their anger and love, dreams and fears, and sources of resilience for living and thriving on our shifting planet.

Twenty-two essays explore wide-ranging themes that are paramount to young generations but that resonate with everyone, including redefining materialism and environmental justice, assessing the risk and promise of technology, and celebrating place anywhere from a wild Atlantic island to the Arizona desert, to Baltimore and Bangkok. The contributors speak with authority on problems facing us all, whether railing against the errors of past generations, reveling in their own adaptability, or insisting on a collective responsibility to do better.


I love the moderated book events I’ve attended. I love that the writers have a dialogue, giving us a chance to get to know them and their books in a natural way.

Lizzie discussed her experiences volunteering in Haiti to plant trees—the backbreaking manual labor and finding a way to water without the right equipment. In Lizzie’s essay, we go with her to Haiti, endure a hurricane that overtakes the island, and experience her journey as she discovers her purpose. Her words take us into the eye of the storm, experiencing the pounding rains, overflowing rivers, and sheer panic with her.

We see through her eyes the kind of lives that some of the locals live: young people who feel their lives are already over because of the responsibility they carry to support their parents.

During the event, Lizzie shared with us that now, instead of paying for another plane ticket, she donates to established nonprofits, such as Partners in Health, and socially conscious businesses, such as Kuli Kuli, which she thinks have a bigger impact than she could.

The pictures she brought of a flooded Haiti were heartbreaking and eye-opening—a visual representation I wish could have been included in the book. She’s agreed to share them with the ChiYA readers:

James discussed his essay, the aptly named But I’ll Still Be Here, which highlights each generations’ responsibility to protect the environment for the future generations. He asks questions of himself and others about what they are and aren’t willing to do for the environment, and whether or not it’s too late. And the bottom line he keeps coming back to is that he’ll still be here, dealing with the consequences of the decisions made by the previous generation.

The event ended on a lighter note, with Lizzie speaking Creole and James singing for us. The discussion (and book) raised important questions about our impact on the environment and what we can do to play our part.

Congratulations on the anthology, Lizzie, and thank you for sharing your experience with us!


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Chicago Reads: Anderson’s YA Literature Conference

I was lucky enough to attend Anderson’s Bookshop’s YA Literature Conference last month in Naperville, Illinois. And I am so happy that I got to go with my ChiYA sisters, Ronni and Samira!


The lineup of authors was fantastic (keynotes in bold): Frank Beddor, Anne Greenwood Brown, Kym Brunner, Julie Buxbaum, Sharon Cameron, Traci Chee, C. Desir, Paula Garner, Kathleen Glasgow, Goeff Herbach, Ellen Hopkins, Miranda Kenneally, Brendan Kiely, Sarah Darer Littman, Chris Lynch, Adriana Mather, Anna Michels, Susan Moger, Jennifer Niven, Kenneth Oppel, Joy Preble, Adam Selzer, Adam Silvera, Sherri L. Smith, Jordan Sonnenblick, Ann Stampler, Laura Stampler, Aaron Starmer, Paula Stokes, Krystal Sutherland, Kara Thomas, Maggie Thrash, and Jeff Zentner.

On Saturday, the conference consisted of panels and keynotes. The panels were:

  • Get Real
  • Guys Write YA!
  • Love Contemporary Style
  • Mystery! Thriller! Suspense!
  • Navigating the Issues—Yesterday & Today
  • Sci-fi, Fantasy, & Witches, Oh My!
  • Write Down the Street

The best part of the conference for me was meeting other writers, teachers, and librarians. I was lucky enough to sit next to Sharon Cameron on Saturday and we hit it off right away. Sharon and I are both represented by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Sharon had just met my agent a few weeks prior. We bonded over switching careers (she was a concert pianist and I was a dentist), feeling guilty about getting to write (as she said, it’s so fun it feels like it should be illegal), and all the good and bad (but mostly good) that come with the privilege.

Christa Desir and I also had a few things in common: we’re both Chicagoans and we’re both Simon Pulse writers! I’ve looked up to Christa and was honored that she took the time to tell me about her experience with Simon Pulse (she loves them and has five books with them!) and give me advice on the industry.

Traci Chee is a friend of ChiYA and it was so wonderful for us to meet her in person! We couldn’t be happier for her tremendous success with her debut, The Reader, which was released at the end of September and has already hit the New York Times Bestseller list!

Adam Silvera is also a ChiYA friend, and we’re always so happy to spend more time with him! His keynote was inspiring.

Jennifer Niven was such a sweetheart and Ronni, Samira, and I were lucky enough to spend Sunday with her. I’m so inspired by her writing, her story, and her characters.

I’m always so blown away by how supportive authors are, even when they’re internationally-bestselling authors. Many of them truly love the industry, love books, and want to see you succeed. Every single author I met at this conference was so supportive, and I want to thank each and every one of them for their kindness. The writing community is wonderful because of authors like them.

Some of my favorite quotes from the weekend:

“I have ADD, I have a hard time sitting still, and I hate writing.” – Jordan Sonnenblick

“You are my rockstars.” – Jennifer Niven

“I’ve always taken pretend very seriously.” –Jennifer Niven

“The voice of the character is what carries through.” — Laura Stampler

“We carry these things in our lives and they show up unexpectedly in our writing.” – Ellen Hopkins

“I’m big on breaking stereotypes because we often look at the wrong people.” – Ellen Hopkins

“I’m the Taylor Swift of YA.” – Adam Silvera referring to his habit of writing his exes into his books

“What we say will carry on with someone for possibly the rest of their lives.” – Adam Silvera

“Harry Potter created me.” – Adam Silvera

“YA taught me the power of words even after I wrote a book.” – Adam Silvera talking about the YA community

Some of my favorite advice from Jennifer’s keynote (some of which can be found on her website):

“Do not enter your pin numbers all at once,” meaning you should take writing one scene, one chapter at a time.

“To do anything well, you have to be able to breathe.”

“Write and shake it off.” She likened the process to having a baby and sending it out in the world, only to hear others tell you things like, “If I had a baby, it would not be like that baby.”

“It’s a lifeline, not a deadline.” Remember, you get to do this, this work is who you are.

The authors were asked why they write for a YA audience, and the answers were inspiring. Here are the ones I managed to jot down, slightly paraphrased:

Chris: Problems don’t go away.

Susan: I write YA because it has a wide demographic, and because of conferences like these.

Ellen: I wrote my first book because I didn’t want that teen to go down that road. Now, I want to convey it does get better. YA = discovery, who you want to be, discovering who you were meant to be. YA is judging tomorrow by today whereas adult fiction is reflection.

Adam: YA is what I always picked up, the space where I’d want to be…even when I try to move away, I magnetize back. It feels great to make a difference and make these teens feel seen and heard.

Kathleen: YA has a desperation for meaning. Real stories live here. It’s an intense reading experience. YA is figuring out who we’ll be. 90% of kids don’t have a sunny, happy life and need to be represented. And I’m emotionally 15.

Anne: Different voices fit different writers. I never left high school and that’s the voice that came out of my mouth and pen. Also, YA has such a broad audience.

Geoff: I write YA because of my son’s smelly left armpit.

Julie: My son’s right armpit…Just kidding. I missed being 16 and wanted to go back to when the world was wide open. It’s fun to tackle firsts.

Jennifer: YA is bold, brave, original. It starts conversations that need to be had. My agent said to write what I have to even if it terrifies me. YA = Oz: the readers are eager, want to see themselves on the page, are honest, and if we write honestly they’ll be receptive.

Susan: I was told I couldn’t write YA and I had to show them otherwise…just like a teenager! I write what I wish had been available when I was a teen.

My favorite advice from the weekend:

Each book requires a new set of tools. You have the toolbox, but you have to find the tools, which can take time (for Susan, 20K words). It’s about recognizing the process.

There are different ways to write: Jennifer has a set of teen readers for the first draft but Julie doesn’t share her work. Sarah has a few trusted betas. It’s about finding your process.

Julie’s advice: read like a writer, not like a reader. You have to stop when it’s grooving to figure out why. Read widely and critically.

Don’t be afraid to ask people for help when researching your book. This was mentioned by multiple authors throughout the day, and the bottom line is, people want to help you. I’ve personally been afraid to ask for help while researching, and this was wonderful to hear and gave me confidence to explore areas of life I’m not familiar with.

On Sunday, “Fandom Frenzy” day, the attendees were mostly teenagers, and it was such a privilege to be able to see teen readers interact with their role model authors. I loved books as a child, but took a long hiatus during my teens and didn’t fall back in love until I was much older. I was so happy to see that there are plenty of teens out there who love and, more importantly, need these books, and it was wonderful to be reminded of this.

For more on the conference, check out the hashtags #ABYALitConf and #YAFandomFrenzy on Twitter!

Beautiful collage of all the authors’ books, courtesy of Anderson’s:


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