Sunday, February 21, 2021

Keynote Conversation: Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera on "Writing for the Contemporary YA Audience"

Becky Albertalli is the author of William C. Morris Award winner and National Book Award longlist title, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (now a major motion picture, Love, Simon); the acclaimed The Upside of Unrequited; and the New York Times bestsellers Leah on the Offbeat, What If It’s Us (co-written with Adam Silvera), Yes No Maybe So (co-written with Aisha Saeed), and Love, Creekwood. You can visit her online at

Adam Silvera is the New York Times bestselling author of Infinity Son, They Both Die at the End, More Happy Than Not, History Is All You Left Me, and What If It’s Us with Becky Albertalli. All his novels have received multiple starred reviews. He worked in the publishing industry as a children’s bookseller, community manager at a content development company, and book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels.

Becky Albertalli (lower left) and Adam Silvera (lower right) are introduced by SCBWI Director of Special Projects Kim Turrisi (upper left), with sign language interpretation by Brian Truitt (upper right).

Becky and Adam start off talking about why they write YA, and hearing from readers around the world – some whom, as Becky says, "have something in common with you when you thought you were the only person who felt that way."

Becky tells us about going back to her high school, having been invited by the student head of the GSA. She reflects on how much things have changed - her school didn't have a GSA when she was a student there, and even if they had, she doesn't feel like she would have been welcome there.

Adam tells the opposite story, of how when he was invited back to his high school, they didn't want him to talk about the gay content of his book at all. How "gutting" it was to have to censor his own stories.

Adam reflects on how his books aren't carried in every library, because of the Queer content. "All my books have Queer narrators." He consider the impact that decision may have on his career... But he doesn't want to write straight cis main characters. "I want to write about my community. I want to write about my identity. And I want to contribute to those spaces."

Becky reflects on the power of gatekeepers, telling us about an event at a middle school that meant so much to her. The administration had pushed to not have any queer books available to their students. And one librarian specifically pushed back and had those conversations and made her case... "If it hadn't been for her, though..."

Some highlight moments:

Appealing to "all of the youths" isn't a target to shoot for. –Becky

Adam made a list of ten random details about a character to get to know them. Then he analyzed that list: Why did one character hate Instagram? It made him feel bad about his body. And that helped Adam understand the heart of his character better.

How books are going to be “time capsules.” –Adam

There's much more covered in Becky and Adam's conversation and the Q&A, including endings, romance, writing fantasy (Adam writes character first, and the magic and world building comes later), and including or not including pop culture references (Becky goes "all in" on including them), as well as the decision to not include COVID-19 in 'Here's To Us', their sequel to 'What if it's Us'.

It's a great conversation, with over 1,000 of us watching it live.

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