If you go
WHAT: YALLFest: Charleston Young Adult Book Festival
WHEN: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: American Theater, 456 King St.; Blue Bicycle Books, 420 King St.; Charleston Music Hall, 37 John St.
MORE INFO: http://yallfest.org
It’s been a slow, steady accumulation: the writing, school appearances, literary magazines, bookshop and now YALLFest, an explosive one-day event celebrating Young Adult fiction.
Jonathan Sanchez’ family, too, has grown.
He and his wife, Lauren, an interior designer, have two children, 5-year-old Evelyn and 2-year-old Alexander.
Sanchez is easy going, tall, with curly blond hair and a mild manner that belies his active imagination, successful entrepreneurship and very busy schedule.
He is gearing up for the third YALLFest, set for Saturday, which has seen throngs of attendees clamoring for autographs and a glimpse of their favorite writers.
The Young Adult genre, which these days relies heavily on trilogies and other multi-volume series, fantasy, teen angst and dystopian settings, is booming.
YALLFest has leveraged this enthusiasm to become the de facto No. 1 Young Adult literary event in the country.
The festival, co-organized by authors Margaret Stohl and Melissa De La Cruz, is a one-day extravaganza of readings, seminars, book signings and special events.
About 50 volunteers will manage up to five concurrent book signings, three panel discussions, a keynote presentation and more.
Thousands are expected to attend.
This year, the star of the show is Veronica Roth, the young author of the “Divergent” trilogy.
She is one of about 50 writers coming to Charleston, not only to promote their novels but to meet colleagues, interact with fans and enjoy the city, Sanchez said. They come on their own (or their publisher’s) dime.
A couple of weeks ago, Sanchez was sitting at his computer at his store, Blue Bicycle Books, taking guesses, some educated, some wild, about how many books to order.
Twenty of this title, 50 of that title ... He was soon surpassing the 3,000 mark. It’s a big financial commitment and he wanted to get it right, he said.
Roth’s books are certain to sell well at the festival, so Sanchez ordered a whopping 750 of the last one (“Allegiant”) alone.
Books, those ancient objects made of paper, ink and glue, are big business for Sanchez. He sells them used at his shop, the only independent book store in the city of Charleston. He writes them (two adult novels, one young adult novel). And he makes them, in partnership with teachers and students at Burke High School and Haut Gap Middle School.
Rowing and writing
Sanchez, 40, was raised in Charlotte by parents from Plant City, Fla. He is a descendent of the original Spanish settlers who made the big peninsula their home after Juan Ponce de Leon bumped into it in 1513.
Alex Sanchez, his father, is a doctor practicing occupational medicine; his mother, Linda, is a math tutor and community volunteer.
The young Sanchez graduated from Yale University in 1995, earning a bachelor’s degree in English. He took a class with the legendary Harold Bloom. He studied Shakespeare. And he rowed.
In fact, he was hard-core, a seventh-seat varsity rower his sophomore year (“which is like batting third in a baseball lineup,” he noted), a rower so avid he spent most of his spare time in the water.
“I never went to study abroad because I couldn’t bear being away in the fall or spring rowing season,” he said.
He trained twice daily. “That was all I did.” He traveled to England and Cuba to join regattas. In Havana, he drank a lot of rum.
In 1996, he came to Charleston and went to work as a clerk and reporter at The Post and Courier, but his tenure there was short, a year and a half.
“I kind of felt like Luke before Yoda died,” he said. He was only partially trained as a Jedi journalist.
Then an opportunity arose to spend some time in Italy.
“I figured I’d freelance and write literature,” he said.
He did, focusing on regular people leading regular lives, for his is a realistic style of writing.
In 1998, he went to work part-time at Boomer’s Books, owned by Jim and Lee Breeden. They had established a good bookstore, with low overhead and wide profit margins. It was a simple business model, but not without a degree of innovation, Sanchez said.
Books were sold on eBay; the store owners made efforts to become an integral part of the Charleston landscape.
Before long, the Breedens were ready to retire, and they sold the store to Sanchez, who took over on Jan. 1, 2007, and renamed it.
Since then, he has used it as a launching pad for a variety of initiatives: book signings, lectures, sponsorships, community outreach, a summer writing camp and, now, YALLFest.
Lately, Sanchez has worked with local teachers to instill in students at Title 1 schools an interest in literature.
A grant from the Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts has funded the Poetry Project, a series of workshops at Burke High School and Haut Gap Middle School that’s led to the publication of literary magazines featuring student work.
Brandon Bobart, eighth-grade English teacher at Haut Gap, is working with Sanchez to develop a creative writing curriculum that targets at-risk kids, he said.
Sanchez visits classrooms to read and discuss poetry, providing students with writing models and provoking their imaginations.
“Jonathan is very adept at coming into a room full of strangers and getting them to quickly latch onto the idea he’s going with,” Bobart said.
The literary enterprise is a good fit for the school, he added. It’s a public-private partnership focused on literacy that reaches many students each semester.
Kathy Gehr, a curriculum leader and teacher coach at St. John’s High School, worked with Sanchez when she was an English teacher at Burke and said he was a terrific organizer, good at energizing people.
Sometimes he would arrange a field trip, to the Gibbes Museum, for example, and get students to write poems based on a particular work of art, she said. Sometimes he would focus on the value of verbs or words with specific significance.
Sanchez wants students to understand that creativity and individuality don’t necessarily require wild ideas. It’s less about what one writes and more about how it’s written.
“He would have them thing about originality in original ways,” she said. “Sometimes being creative isn’t just making something that is weird, but making something that is just yours that only you could write or create.”
Emily Williams, a Buist teacher and YALLFest volunteer, said Sanchez’ passion for sharing literature with the community is unique. He is responsible for generating enthusiasm among the next generation of readers and writers, she said.
“Lots of my students have taken his summer class and really love it. It fills up really quickly,” Williams said.
But now, Williams and Sanchez, along with many others, are gearing up for YALLFest, which has seen attendance more or less double each year since it began in 2011.
“It’s amazing that the authors are so passionate about bringing literacy to different communities, and that they’re willing to do it for free,” Williams said. “Fans come out with suitcases full of books to get signed.”
For Sanchez, the stamina he gained during his rowing days probably comes in handy. Even as he prepared for YALLFest, he continues to visit classrooms and run his bookstore.
“I find it depressing that I spend more time with Microsoft Excel than Microsoft Word,” he said.
Despite his enthusiasm for teaching literature and his writing ambitions, he takes a no-nonsense approach to his business ventures, he said. Independent bookstores, after all, seem to be a dying breed.
So, when he’s not conducting his workshops or organizing big events, he crunches the numbers, orders his books, hopes to sell a couple of rare first editions and promotes local writers.
“I’ve always liked to do lots of different things,” he said. “I’m a control freak, so I’m happy being autonomous.”
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902.
Veronica Roth author of “Allegiant” will be a featured writer during YALLFest at Blue Bicycle Books.×
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