By Marah J. Morrison
The lines of high school students seemed endless as they waited to meet and get their books signed by Neal Shusterman and Steve Sheinkin on April 10 during the 41st annual English Festival at Youngstown State University.
Shusterman is a winner of the National Book Award and a New York Times bestselling author. He is known for his books “Scythe” and “Thunderhead,” which are young adult novels and a part of his “Arc of a Scythe” series.
Sheinkin is a young adult, nonfiction author from New York who used to write history textbooks. He is known for “The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights” and “Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team.”
Sheinkin said he enjoys coming to events like the English Festival and has heard many great things about it. He said the high school students, who are passionate readers, do their homework before attending so they have their questions and ideas ready for the author.
“It makes me feel like I’m back with my kind of people from when I was their age,” he said. “It’s really cool.”
Sheinkin said he loves sharing his works with students and the world, and most of his life is sitting in a room because he does a lot of nonfiction writing and research.
“I want to share these stories [that] are often very little known [and] slices of American history with people,” he said. “I never know really how they are reacting to it until I go to schools or come to festivals like this and get to interact with the readers.”
Sheinkin said he feels like he is accomplishing something by reaching out to his readers, and said if anyone is interested in becoming a writer, practice is the best route to take.
“Nobody is good at it when they start. Nobody writes good first drafts, so it’s just doing it, showing it to people, getting feedback and just getting better and better,” he said.
Gary Salvner, co-chair of the English Festival committee and retired YSU faculty member, is one of the people who started the festival 41 years ago. He said the festival is a lot of work and the responsibilities include finding authors and reading books for students to read.
“[It’s] a lot of planning and a lot of coordinating,” he said. “It’s intention is to celebrate kids and reading and writing.”
Salvner said the festival is an opportunity to excite high school students, and it allows them to get the experience of reading literature and talking to authors.
Melanie Loew, YSU’s English Festival coordinator, said having these authors at the festival is a dream come true for students. She said many of them are huge fans of Shusterman and Sheinkin.
“[Sheinkin] is an author that junior high students might relate to a little bit more with their reading levels,” she said. “We are honored to have both of them [and] the students prepare so well and they are so excited.”
Loew said the dates are set for the festival next year and the guest authors will be Rich Wallace and his wife, Sandra. She said plans are also being made for 2021. For more information, visit www.ysuenglishfestival.org.