This post first appeared at Teen Librarian Toolbox, a professional development website for teen librarians. If you are a teen librarian and don't know TLT, skip this post and go straight to their website. It will change the way you work.
As a writer, my very favorite thing is talking to teen readers. I find a lot of energy in hanging out with passionate people, especially when they’re passionate about books. NerdCon: Stories was 2,500 (mostly young) people inspired by stories; it was heaven.
Cons are like camp: you can form a genuine, lasting friendship in a matter of days. NerdCon: Stories felt different, as if we all were friends from the start. We all loved things, intensely, and were free to geek out about contemporary YA books, or tabletop games, or public education, or Sherlock. (I’m cheating here. Those are my passions.) This was our first time in a room together, but already we were a community.
NerdCon weekend coincided with World Mental Health Day and National Coming Out Day, two events that reinforced NerdCon’s mandate: Be You. Panelists shared their “Be You” breakthrough moments, and attendees repeated the sentiment in personal conversations.
We covered many topics—activism, diversity, the myriad ways we tell stories, writing outside your experience, why stories matter—and “Be You” popped up dozens of times. Every panel and serious mainstage event fell into one of two general themes:
We all are the same, and you are one of us.
On the surface, everyone at NerdCon had exactly one thing in common: we believed in the power of stories. But our commonalities were greater than that. We were nerds. We were passionate fans. Every one of us wished we could change something about ourselves. Regardless of color or culture or history or who we loved or how we dressed, everyone had something worth sharing. We received each other’s stories without criticism, because we also acknowledged:
We all are different, and we embrace that.
There were Night Vale nerds, Star Wars nerds, Game of Thrones nerds, Hamilton nerds, math nerds, and nerdfighters. We each embraced some fandoms and couldn’t connect with others. Some of us thought of our bodies as prisons. Some thought our brains were wired suboptimally. We all had histories, but our histories were different. We each were the culmination of life experiences that gave us each a unique perspective. Our life stories intersected but did not completely overlap with any other person on earth. We all were different, and our stories mattered.
To reinforce that, NerdCon held one storytelling circle and two open mic sessions where eager attendees shared their stories. Though the headliners and panels were top notch, my weekend’s highlight was the storytelling circle, where storytellers held the floor for six minutes each. I loved learning what was meaningful to everyone who spoke. Cathy reveled in the realization that bisexuality was a thing. Julia told us about her first kiss (just two days prior). James recounted the perils of urban exploring.
Photo credit: Hussein Salama, NerdCon: Stories attendee
It was a meaningful, bonding experience, and the storytelling went on long after the circle opened.
Meeting new people and swapping stories is among my very favorite things. I love stories. I thrive on them. I would have loved multiple storytelling circles each day, but NerdCon was packed with other great sessions. It was an informative, inspiring, well-rounded Con, though it did feel too short. Activities packed our long days, so I left thinking there were hundreds more people I hadn’t yet met.
That’s what next year is for! I recommend NerdCon: Stories to storytellers, readers, writers, and story-finders. I’ll see you there in 2016.
I blog rarely, because I'm busy writing books. When I do blog, I focus on writing, friendship, family, and books. Because my family's best nicknames are private, I use their birth years for shorthand: