On the Monday immediately following the 2016 YSU English Festival, the Festival Committee sits down to review its most recent, and to plan its future, work. Eleven committee members—YSU English department faculty including one recently retired member, YSU’s Writing Center Coordinator, retired secondary school teachers, an Associate Provost, and a former student who went on to earn a MA in YA Lit—tell stories of their experience of the Festival.
Around 175 schools are represented. Each school brings up to 30 students and two or three adults—teachers, librarians, parents. One adult (or sometimes two) must judge one of the day’s contests. One adult must serve as a Festival monitor. But our guests, Dr. Steve Bickmore, Matt de la Peña, and Dr. Randy Testa (you can read more about Randy's interests here), also do sessions just for the teachers; the Festival, you see, isn’t just for the kids.
One week later, we are reviewing the 2016 Festival again for our Advisory Board. We have our art contest winners scrolling via powerpoint in the background. We play a couple of original musical compositions, winners of our music competition. We recite this year’s major story, the “Festival Flu,” and how Matt de la Peña avoided its grasp and how Steve Bickmore wasn’t so lucky. We single out teachers and volunteers and students who acted extraordinarily, and we marvel at how extraordinary an ordinary three school days can be.
We are still scrambling to thank all our 2016 volunteers, to pay our bills, and to put our materials into boxes to be stored for next year. At the same time, we are brainstorming programming changes, and fundraising sources; we are revising policies and rewriting informational material; we are still learning how to effectively communicate with local schools, our local communities, and our professional colleagues.
I wish I could explain more accurately what the Festival is or describe what exactly it does to students and teachers and committee members. To be honest, during most festival days, I’m holed up in room with 450-550 impromptu essays and the 30 or so judges who will read them each at least twice. Then, I move with the better essays to another room where 20 or so judges will read them each at least twice more. There is much to tell about that experience, just as there is a story about what we had to do to rearrange the festival program when Dr. Bickmore was knocked over by the flu. And then there are stories Dr. Bickmore can tell himself. And stories Matt de la Peña can share. And each of the festival committee members has stories of their individual experience, including Gary Salvner’s experience of 38 festival years. And then there’s the students—over 100,000 in our 38 years. And the teachers.
Contact me to ask questions about the YSU English Festival and especially about coming out to visit: firstname.lastname@example.org. The 2017 Festival is April 26-28.
Co-Chair, YSU English Festival Committee