by Jenny Ramaley
New York Times bestselling YA author John Green came to Pittsburgh last Friday, Jan. 28, courtesy of the Black, White & Read All Over program.* In case you need a memory jog, John won a Printz award with his first novel Looking for Alaska. His other teen novels have also won a slew of awards and include An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns and his latest, Will Grayson, Will Grayson. His presentation was funny, interesting, self-deprecating, and covered a wide-range of topics from world history and current events.
But the most fascinating aspect of the evening was the audience.
Of the almost-sold-out 612 seat Carnegie Lecture Hall, I'd say 90% of the crowd was teens and young adults – equally mixed between male and female. The multi-cultural group sported color-streaked hair, skinny jeans, and even a few girls wearing headscarves. Ah, the positive energy of youth.
After a clever musical opening act, a duo who wrote songs based on scenes from John's books, John Green hit the stage to the kind of thunderous applause usually reserved for rock stars.
Why do teens love this guy? Partly because they love his BLOG! Sure, they obviously enjoy his books, but the big draw stems from their devoted attachment to his website www.nerdfighters.com , with its dedicated community of world-aware teens who he charges with "raising nerdy to the power of awesome." During the Q&A session, almost every question from the teens focused on the blog, while every question from the 10% remaining 'mature' audience members centered on his books and the YA publishing world.
While some kidlit author websites and blogs are aimed at adults, John Green's is not. The Nerdfighter website welcomes teens' thoughts, videos, and drawings, and encourages respectful disagreements. John Green and his brother have built a site where intelligent, artistic kids can meet and chat with other smart kids who share similar, sometimes quirky interests. The site and John Green's video rants employ a 'Barometer of Truth' approach because John respects youth's ability to see through less-than-honest information.
In addition to being a touchstone for young people, Nerdfighters is also a perfect example of how an appealing website can differentiate an author from zillions of other writers and wannabes. The fortunate byproduct is that John Green has built a receptive audience for every new book he publishes.
*Now celebrating its 10th Anniversary, Black, White & Read All Over brings families and young readers together to meet the award-winning authors they love and share their stories (although the only parents I saw the night of John's lecture were dropping their teens off at the door.) Black, White & Read All Over is presented by Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures in partnership with Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh with the generous support of UPMC Health Plan.