3,000 students focus on books at YSU English Festival

By Denise Dick



About 3,000 middle and high school students from across the Mahoning and Shenango valleys come to Youngstown State University this week to write about and discuss books.

It’s the 37th YSU English Festival, and it started Wednesday and runs through Friday. Featured authors this year are Gary B. Schmidt, the Thomas and Carol Gay lecturer; and Jennifer Buehler, James A. Houck lecturer.

It’s the fourth year that Marquett Samuels, a junior at Austintown Fitch High School, has attended.

“I love it,”she said. “I like reading the books, visiting a college campus and meeting new people,” she added.

Marquett plans to be at next year’s festival, too.

To attend, students have to read seven books. Schmidt’s book, “Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy,” is common to both the seventh-through-ninth grade and the 10th-to-12th-grade book lists.

Each day different schools participate in writing games, book discussions and workshops focused on reading and writing.

This year’s festival is the first for Bryan Murberger of Springfield, a junior at Mahoning County Career and Technical Center.

“My girlfriend actually talked me in to it,” he said. “She said, ‘Why don’t you try something new?’”

He liked some of the books on the list more than others, naming John Green’s popular “The Fault in Our Stars,” as his favorite. While it’s not something he likely would have participated in without his girlfriend’s urging, he says he’ll likely sign up next year.

One session he attended Wednesday, “Writing Games,” broke students into groups of four or five and allotted them 55 minutes to select three characters from among the seven books they read, Bryan said.

For each character, they assigned a super power and then wrote biographies for each, explaining how and why they acquired their respective power. Teams were limited to two students each from the same school.

Prizes are awarded at the end of the day for winners in several categories.

Both Schmidt and Buehler spoke to students during the festival. Schmidt, an English professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., earned both a Newbery Honor and a Printz Honor for “Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy” and a Newbery Honor for his book, “The Wednesday Wars.”

Buehler, an assistant educational studies professor at St. Louis University, hosts “Text Messages,” a literature podcast for young people.

Schmidt, who also signed copies of his books, told students some of the requirements of writers as well as ingredients for a good story.

“All good stories begin and end with questions,” he said.

That’s what writers do: Ask and create questions within a story, Schmidt said.

“They say if you want to be a writer, write what you know — don’t do that,” he said.

“You already know that. If you want to be a writer, write what you want to know.”

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