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My weekend at a nerd convention

French the llama, puppy-sized elephants! Don’t forget to be awesome.

If that made sense to you, you might be a Nerdfighter. If it didn’t, here, have a rabbit hole. And another. And another. If it still doesn’t make sense to you, have an entry point:

Basically, the community of Nerdfighters, or Nerdfighteria, formed around the vlogbrothers channel on YouTube. Vlogbrothers=video+blog+brothers. The brothers involved are John Green — a YA author you may have heard of if you’re reading this blog — and Hank Green, a nerd-of-all-trades who keeps doing new projects. Still with me? Nerdfighteria involves lots of silliness, lots of curiosity, and lots of awesome. (Awesome can be a noun in Nerdfighteria; see the massive annual charitable fundraiser Project for Awesome.) And this past weekend, that awesome celebrated its tenth anniversary at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center with its first-ever conference: NerdCon: Nerdfighteria.

There were a lot of people in Harry Potter t-shirts in Boston this weekend. And Hamilton t-shirts. And of course, Pizza John t-shirts.

The opening ceremonies of this odd but warm gathering were basically a showcase of Nerdfighteria, with some friends of the vlogbrothers and some official members of their network of channels. There was a video looking back at the past ten years, and a competition on truly minute vlogbrothers trivia. (John and Hank went up against two Nerdfighters from the audience. It was closer than you’d think.)

Points climbing in the vlogbrothers trivia challenge

Points climbing in the vlogbrothers trivia challenge.

Sabrina Cruz gave a multimedia history presentation. Lauren Fairweather performed a song; Emily Graslie and Jessi Knudsen Castañeda talked gross science, and Hannah Hart talked with Hank about the YouTubing life.

Next, con companion Sandy and I attended a panel on “Women in Nerdfighteria,” with Rosianna Halse, Sabrina Cruz, Meghan Tonjes, Hannah Hart, and Hayley G. Hoover, moderated by Akilah Hughes. The discussion went into issues of intersectionality as well as treatment of women online and how to respond when it’s not so great. (I liked body-positive vlogger Meghan Tonjes’s answer to trolls’ comments: “So nice to meet a fan!”)

After lunch, we wandered the expo halls. We entered a raffle for NaNoWriMo goodies, played around at some crafty tables, added thoughts on improving the world to a Giant Pizza That Decreased World Suck, and, of course, shared book recommendations.

post-it annotations

Photo which we were invited to caption.

(My friend Sandy and I independently came up with two Harry Potter references. Shocker.)

(My friend Sandy and I independently came up with two Harry Potter references. Shocker.)

giant pizza

Next, we went to a panel on — what else? — “Reading & Writing,” with T. Michael Martin, Maureen Johnson, George Watsky, Josh Sundquist, and Emma Mills, moderated by Kristina Horner. There was talk of writing process, time management, and finding a writing community; unsurprisingly, the Q & A portion revealed that there are lots of aspiring writers in Nerdfighteria.

Reading & Writing panel: L to R Kristina Horner, George Watsky, Emma Mills, T. Michael Martin, Maureen Johnson, Josh Sundquist

“Reading & Writing” panelists, L to R: moderator Kristina Horner, George Watsky, Emma Mills, T. Michael Martin, Maureen Johnson, and Josh Sundquist.

I fudged my age slightly to get into the Old Nerdfighters meetup, which was formed around a Facebook group of over-35ers but included other con attendees as well. It turns out that, although a lot of Nerdfighters are in or near their teens, old Nerdfighters never die. They just continue to remember to be awesome.

Then, it was time for a live taping of the Dear Hank and John podcast, brought to you by “every koala ever” — a sponsorship acquired earlier that day because it was mentioned in one of the vlogbrothers trivia questions. The in-joke silliness factor was high, but the brothers Green still managed to dispense plenty of (as they call it) “dubious advice.”

I didn’t make it to all of the Sunday activities (because almost-old Nerdfighters need their rest), but I did go back for the closing ceremonies. These turned emotional when John talked about the late Esther Earl, a Nerdfighter whose battle with thyroid cancer partially influenced his novel The Fault in Our Stars. There was also poetry from George Watsky, music from Andrew Huang, a true-to-form silly song from Maureen Johnson, and more.

And that, my friends, is what happens when lots of nerdy people who met online meet IRL. It’s pretty awesome.

More at the NerdCon: Nerdfighteria Twitter and Facebook accounts.


Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. She is a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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