Crowdsourcing the Next Young Adult Nonfiction: Grade 8 Hears from Author Marc Favreau

Students in Grade 8 at Rivers had an opportunity to peek inside the world of book publishing and writing in early May, with a special visit from writer and editor Marc Favreau. The class read Favreau’s book Unequal earlier in the semester. As an author of nonfiction, Favreau has focused on weaving history into compelling narratives for the young adult audience. Visiting humanities classes on Friday, May 3, and speaking before a special homeroom, Favreau (who is the brother of Middle School Latin faculty member Cathy Favreau) spoke candidly about his journey as a writer, fielded questions from students, and actively solicited ideas from the crowd on what his next book topic should be.

Favreau explained that, although he is about to publish his fifth book, writing is “somewhat of a side hustle.” 

“I spend most of my day helping other writers,” said Favreau, who works by day as the editorial director for The New Press in New York City. Writing, he says, happens in the “nooks and crannies” of his weeks. 

While he always had thoughts of becoming a writer, Favreau shared that he received some words of discouragement early on (he was told that “writers are born, not made”), which for years kept him from being able to think of himself as a writer. Becoming a published author, he told the class, came about somewhat unexpectedly and relatively recently. About eight years ago, when his own children were in middle school, he noticed a lack of nonfiction titles available for young adults. A conversation with a literary agent furthered this notion; the agent challenged him to write the kind of book he wanted to see, which turned into a book proposal almost overnight. Within two weeks of that initial conversation, he had a contract. 

Book contracts in nonfiction, Favreau was quick to clarify, can be finalized with a sample chapter, or a “blueprint,” before the book has been written. Those interested in publishing novels or works of poetry typically must submit a completed manuscript before receiving a book deal.

Like the book that followed his initial contract, Unequal was born out of the desire to create works for young adults that reflect the national conversation. The George Floyd protest was one of the biggest social movements in all of American history, Favreau said, and in the summer of 2020, there was massive demand in publishing for books discussing the history of race, segregation, and activism. 

“I noticed there wasn’t a single way you could figure out what all this was about,” said Favreau. It’s also personal: “My two sons are African American, my wife is Black,” said Favreau, who is white. He described his family’s conversations about activism and what they could do as individuals. For Unequal, which offers a history of racial inequality for young adults, Favreau teamed up with author Michael Dyson Cohen to “help people understand the present by understanding what we’ve done in the past.” 

The Grade 8 students, themselves in the midst of a big research project, got an inside look at the editing process as well. Projecting a heavily marked-up manuscript page on the screen, Favreau explained that editing and rewriting are a substantial part of writing and publishing. It can be discouraging, he acknowledged. “Imagine you’re turning in a big paper, and this is what you get back—two hundred pages of edits,” he said, contextualizing it for the class.  

In the homeroom in the Lewis Common Area, Favreau took suggestions from the class on what his next book topic should be. “Every book that I’ve written has come out of some thing that has happened to me in my life,” he said, citing big political movements or questions, “but I’m trying to think about whether I should write a book or books on something different.”

Students were eager to share their suggestions, which included some weighty topics: Holocaust history, the Gypsy Rose Blanchard story and mental health, the Covid-19 pandemic, the storming of the Capital, immigration and family separation, and the Gaza war.

Favreau’s newest work, Represent: The Unfinished Fight for the Vote, will be released in September 2024. “I have no idea what’s coming next,” he told the class. But perhaps, the next big idea will come from the very audience the books for whom the books are intended—middle school students. 
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