News / Insights

CLX-Supported Teen Lit Fest Celebrates Fourth Year

What do you get when 33 lit-loving Chicago teens collaborate for eight months to share their passion for words with their peers? The ChiTeen Lit Fest -- a by-teens, for-teens literary festival for youth aged 13-19.

Some 440 young people attended the fourth-annual fest April 26 at the Harold Washington Library Center and April 27 at Columbia College Chicago. The event provides a safe and creative space for young adults to discover their unique voice through literary arts. The annual celebration started as a glimmer of an idea in 2015 with a $5,000 planning grant from the Chicago Learning Exchange (then the Hive Chicago Fund for Connected Learning at The Chicago Community Trust) to a partnership involving 10 organizations led by the Chicago Public Library.

Organizers envisioned a first-of-its-kind event in the city, a festival crossing genres and creative media to celebrate writing and the literary arts through workshops, panels, performances, community building, and opportunities for year-round engagement.

We imagined a multi-day experience where teens from across the city could connect with like-minded peers and network with professional writers, explained Jen Steele, an author, YOUmedia Partnerships Coordinator at Chicago Public Library, and Founder and Executive Director of the Revolving Door Arts Foundation.

After the planning period, CLX then supported the inaugural festival in 2016 with a $25,000 grant. That first celebration attracted more than 300 teens. The following year, a CLX grant of $80,000 supported partners in growing the 2017 festival, expanding activities throughout the year, and setting the stage for sustainability. The 2017 festival drew 374 teens.

“My students gained a sense of independence and ownership of their learning,” said a Kelly High School teacher following the 2017 fest. “The students really enjoyed being part of the Lit Fest and seeing an authentic purpose for what they were doing, and having the chance to interact with a real, engaged audience. Students didn’t think that other people would want to hear what they had to say, or that their writing had any value among older and published authors. They were amazed with the response when people stopped by to ask about their writing and try their activities.”

The 2019 ChiTeen Lit Fest featured five teen panelists, four teen alumni panelists, and five workshops led by teens. This year’s professional headliners included Akenya, Haley Cao, Ricardo Gamboa, Eve L. Ewing, A.D. Jameson, and Natalie Moore.

Thirty-three teens worked on the fest since September, said Julie Koslowsky, CPL’s Teen Services Outreach Coordinator. They include the fest’s Teen Council, Branding Team, and Teen Ambassadors.

In addition to Chicago Public Library, the following organizations partnered in this year’s ChiTeen Lit Fest: University of Illinois at Chicago-College of Education, Center for College Access and Success at Northeastern Illinois University, Columbia College Chicago, Poetry Foundation, Steppenwolf Theater, The Revival, After School Matters, 826CHI, Young Chicago Authors, Chicago Public Schools Department of Libraries, and ChiArts.

“It’s exciting to see an idea generated within the CLX community take root and continue to grow, so talented young Chicagoans can share their art and learn from each other,” said CLX Executive Director Maria Hibbs. “The fact that teens actually plan and produce such a high-quality two-day event is truly impressive.”