FestivalYA – The chance of a lifetime and meeting John Green.

Redacted by Sophia Tiganas.

Somewhere buried in your memories from 2014:

Every time you go to the cinema with your friends as of late, there’s this new trailer showing before every movie. You sit there comfortably with your bucket of popcorn that’s as big as your head, the drinks you sneaked in so you wouldn’t have to drown yourself in watered-down Sprite, and you watch this exact trailer for the millionth time. It’s about this girl with cancer, presumably, and her love interest. It looks like it’s about to be terribly sappy and sad, and it says that it’s the movie adaptation of a book. So, naturally, because you devour a book per week – because, well, how else would you spend your free time as a 7th grader – you go to the first bookstore in sight: and you hunt.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what the book I’m talking about is. The Fault In Our Stars has successfully touched the lives of almost every teenager these days, and rightfully so. I remember coming out of the movie theatre when I was 13 and stepping foot into Cărturești, silently challenging myself to read this devastatingly sad YA book in 3 days: because in 3 days, the movie was coming out, and in my mind I just had to fall in love with both.

Obviously, I finished it in 2. Probably like every single other kid who literally devoured that read.

Across the span of the following years, the same audience also sped through and cried thanks to the author’s other works: from Let It Snow, to Looking for Alaska, Turtles All The Way Down and all the others.

And now, many years later, if I may overstep a bit by mixing up my personal and professional life, it certainly is a bit overwhelming to meet John Green himself at an event where our magazine is a media partner of Cărturești: with us acting as press at a festival with thousands of participants.

FestivalYA has hosted an array of well-known authors in its first two runs, giving Romanian book lovers the first chance in a whole while to meet their favourite writers: John Green’s event, having taken place on the 5th day of the festival, was, however, probably one of the most anticipated ones so far. With over 150 people joining on Zoom and thousands others watching the discussion on the Facebook Live taking place, the event was curated by the incredibly coherent and quick-witted Magdalena Mărculescu, who gave many of Green’s fans the opportunity to ask the writer any questions they liked themselves, creating a wonderfully comfortable space for everyone to interact one-on-one.

Right off the bat, Green admitted to being slightly chocked up about how many people had joined and how wholesome seeing so many fans from Romania was.

“To see that my books have travelled to places where not even I have been, and that those same books even touched the lives of so many people… man, it’s really something.”

This was also the first time he had gotten the chance to talk about his newest book, a collection of essays that’s coming to bookstores incredibly soon under the name of The Anthropocene Reviewed: in a year as tough as 2020 has been, Green admits to having felt the need to put some complicated feelings on paper himself. After a relatively long-lasting health scare getting him hospitalized, these essays are the first occasion in which the author inserts himself in his work.

“You understand the stories through the eyes of the characters. You see how they look at the world, which helps you look at the world or understand how other people look at it, and that’s what I want my stories to be. This time around, I wanted to take people on that same kind of trip, where, you know, hopefully the voyage of reading the book is fun and emotional; but I also wanted to write about me. About my way of looking at the world and what it’s like for me to be here in this strange time… you know, I started the book before the pandemic, but it obviously changed very dramatically after the pandemic. I realized that I was writing about a time that was going to be very important in my life, but also very important in the lives of my children, very important in the lives of many people. And so this is the first time I was trying to write about myself, but it was also the first time I was trying to write about something that was happening all around me. Life has had more change and more upheaval than at any other time in the last couple decades, so it has been a very strange and difficult time, and I wanted to write about that: but write about it in a more hopeful way.

I think I wrote this book because I wanted to write my own way back to hope as well. Sometimes you write for other people, sometimes you write for yourself. I think that, in a lot of ways, I wrote this book for myself, too.”

If there’s anything that could make even the most hopeless of people see a light at the end of the tunnel, Green’s answers, as well as the event itself, were that spark of hope he himself had been just describing as necessary. Thanks to this festival, something so large-scale that only happened thanks to last year’s lockdown, fans from all over the country got to share inside jokes in the chat and ask their favourite author questions that had even him tearing up or being so impressed that he insisted on staying more than he originally planned to. Aspiring young authors, Nerdfighters who had been watching John and Hank since the beginning of their YouTube career, and teens who were so nervous to talk that they wrote down their questions before the event, all enjoyed every minute of this meeting, even if some of them didn’t even get to ask a question themselves.

Still, thanks to Magdalena moderating, a lot of us still got to chat. Everyone can probably already hear the plethora of questions about The Fault In Our Stars, about Alaska, or about his writing process, and, to be very fair, they’re all questions we’ve all asked ourselves at least once during our reads.

And, to sum up:

Yes, he was very sad when Augustus Waters died.

No, he is not at all detached from his stories.

Yes, he does absolutely love the iconic quotes of “Okay? Okay.” and “My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations.”. He’s just as cheesy as the rest of us, after all.

He would get along very well with Hazel, if anyone was curious.

And Alaska is a bit too similar with his own highschool self, except he would tell her that there is life after your teen years. Even if he, too, is aware that no, adult life is not the hardest part of life, but being a teenager is.

But, to be very honest, I think those are things we all knew. The crazy part about tonight was not that we got the official answers, in my humble opinion, but that we got to even ask them in the first place. We’ve said this once before and we’ll say it again: Romania is our little corner of the world. To quote one of tonight’s participants: “It’s amazing to get this chance and to have this conversation. We’re over here and you’re an internationally acclaimed author, a popular, American author. I don’t think a lot of us thought something like this would ever happen.” For a lot of us, John Green is one of the famous people who we simply never processed to exist on the same level of existence as us. However cheesy that might sound is absolutely irrelevant: because it hits home.

And maybe it hit home for Green too. He definitely was as emotional as his fans at the end of the meeting, holding back a few tears when answering the final question. It’s easy to forget just how human the people behind the names on well-known books can be: how scared of uncertainty they, too, are sometimes, how excited to meet people who like their work, how shocked to see how far their reach has gotten. With FestivalYA, Cărturești has given thousands of Romanian book lovers the chance of maybe a lifetime, and for that, we could never thank them enough.

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