Mav Literary Fest features guest authors, activities to encourage students to enjoy literature


Ashley Yen

Ashlee Vance (’96), who wrote “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future,” spoke to the Upper School on Nov. 16.

Richard Liang, Staff Writer

Laughter erupted in the VST as Upper School students listened to guest speaker Ashlee Vance (’96) recount Elon Musk’s peculiar eating habits. Simultaneously, Lower School students, dressed as their favorite book characters, alternated between different origami-making stations in the Lower School courtyard. These events headlined the 2021 Mav Literary Fest, which began on Nov. 15.

The festival featured award-winning authors, student luncheons and a multitude of interactive activities, with a goal of encouraging students to read more and inspiring in them a love of literature.

“It’s a celebration of books and everything connected with it, so that’s why we have various events to celebrate it,” Upper School Librarian Erica Dibella said. “We’re just trying to get people excited about books again.”

Head Upper School Librarian Suzanne Webb believes that because students are surrounded by technology and have heavy workloads from school and extracurriculars, they tend to forget about the significance of reading. She hopes that bringing a passionate author who connects with students helps to foster interest in writing and reading.

“Students who have a passion for science and writing can find a career that blends both interests,” Webb said. “Hopefully, that’s what students will get from the author.”

Along with Vance, authors K.A. Holt and Dan Santat spoke at assemblies in the Middle School and Lower School, respectively. Vance, who spoke on Nov. 16, discussed his time as a columnist for the New York Times, his personal experiences when writing “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” and his recent gig hosting the Bloomberg Businessweek docuseries “Hello World.”

“He’s a cool guy,” freshman Emarie Dibella said. “I found it very interesting that he was not a huge Elon Musk fan.”

She was also surprised by Vance’s even-handed approach when talking about Musk.

“He was like, ‘I don’t agree with everything Elon stands for, but I do like Elon, he’s a cool guy,’” Emarie said. “He wrote Elon’s biography, so you’d expect him to praise Elon more.”

Holt and Santat both discussed writing strategies during their speeches. Santat also spoke about the challenges he faced as he aspired to become an illustrator. As a child, Santat’s parents had refused to send him to art classes, so he started mimicking cartoons such as Garfield and the Incredible Hulk to master drawing.

“He instilled this idea that if you have a passion for something and if you practice and get good at it, you can make it a career.”

— Chris Gray

“He really inspired kids to reach for their passions,” Lower School Librarian Chris Gray said. “He instilled this idea that if you have a passion for something and if you practice and get good at it, you can make it a career.”

The librarians designed this year’s Mav Literary Fest to be more student-oriented. In addition to assemblies, a select group of students were invited to a luncheon with their designated authors to ask personal questions. 

Upper School librarians worked with the Book Keepers Club to host a scavenger hunt and book swap for students. Middle School organized events where students could make their own bookmarks and Harry Potter wands. Lower School students made paper puppets that resembled their imaginary friends.

“I liked the origami station,” first grader Hazel Gray said. “It was fun.”

In previous years, St. John’s has hosted a book fair where students can buy new, unused books. This year, the traditional book fair was replaced with a book swap that focused on reusing and recycling books. Students and faculty from the Upper and Lower Schools brought and exchanged books that they had already read. Leftover books will be donated to refugee families that Lower School classrooms have adopted through YMCA International Services.

“A lot of families in need requested books this year, so we were able to put a lot of those leftover books that our families donated for the book swap into those families’ hands,” Chris Gray said.

Chris Gray felt relieved to see months of his behind-the-scenes planning and hard work manifest as smiles on students’ faces.

“The main goal for this year’s literary fest was to create this sense of excitement and fun around books,” he said. “The amount of smiles and laughs I saw yesterday with the kids warmed my heart and made all the effort worth it.”