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ChiTeen Lit Fest: Today’s Teens, Tomorrow’s Leaders

We spoke to Allen, one of the teen masterminds behind this year’s fest.

By Teens For Teens

At 16, Allen is already a jack of all trades. He’s a project manager, designer, event planner—and he’s one of the interns helping plan the 7th Annual ChiTeen Lit Fest.

The fest, which takes place from April 24 to April 30 at branches across the city, provides a space for teens to unlock and discover their voice through literary arts such as poetry, songwriting, zines, and comics.

What makes it special? It’s not only a program for teens, it’s also planned by teens.

“Teens know what other teens like, which makes the fest more relatable,” Allen says.  

The internship allows teens to take on “different roles that replicate future job prospects in a supportive environment,” says Julie Koslowsky, Outreach Coordinator for Teen Services.

As an intern, his day-to-day involves checking emails, attending Zoom meetings, sharing ideas, and collaborating with teens and adults.

“I was on the Marketing team, too! I came up with designs for the logo on the flyer,” he says while proudly showing off this year’s vibrant flyer (as he should!). “It was me and two other teens from other branches. We came up with the colors, a theme, and the fonts we wanted to use.”

“This gives teens an opportunity to gain new skills and strengthen ones they already have. They build transferable skills such as project management, design thinking, communication and collaboration skills, and creative problem solving, which are highly sought-after skillsets in any job market.”

Teens Take On Sustainability

But Allen’s passion project has been planning the event, “Storytelling and Sustainability” at his local branch, Legler Regional, where artist Brando will be showing teens how to weave yarn and fabric into art projects.

Allen and two other ChiTeen Lit Fest interns sitting in a room writing and typing on computers.
Allen and two of the other teen interns hard at work! Photo credit: Christina Freitag.

“We wear clothes every day and when our clothes get too small or dirty, we throw them away. But you can form something new out of these old items,” he explains. “My idea was that teens could see how textile waste impacts the environment and the ways they can make a difference.” 

First came the idea. Then came narrowing it down to a specific project and making it something teens would be interested in. From there, it was all about planning the event and booking an artist.

Supporting and assisting him (and other interns) along the way are teen librarians, who ensure teens can get the experience of planning an event from start to finish—empowering them to reach their potential.

“Getting teens involved has been really helpful because, again, it’s by teens, for teens,” says Christina Freitag, one of the librarians guiding Allen and other teens in the planning. “It was Allen’s passion that allowed this program to happen. He’s been great and played different roles in putting this all together, from conceptualizing to design.”

Coming to a Library Branch Near You

For the first time since 2019, ChiTeen Lit Fest is back in-person. And this year, it’s going local!  “We want to make the event more accessible to participants. Teens throughout the city can go either somewhere close to home or school or if they do want to travel and explore a new branch, they can go to a branch farther away,” Christina says. “There’s a lot more opportunities for teens to get engaged and learn since it’s over the span of a whole week and spanning more areas across the city.”

There will also be activities available online for teens who can’t make it out. They can join a Q&A and songwriting workshop with musician Jean Deaux, a Q&A with best-selling author, Elizabeth Lim, and a live performance from authors Noelle Berry and Rich Robbins.

ChiTeen Lit Fest swag bags are also available for teens to take home in select library locations.    

Allen hopes teens do travel to other branches to experience something new. “One thing I want teens to take away is all the things the Library has to offer. Maybe they’ll want a role in ChiTeen Lit Fest next year, too.”

Looking to the Future

When I ask Allen what he’ll take away from his time as an intern, he lists things like communication skills, designing on Canva, collaboration skills—and it’s clear to me he’s developed into quite the project manager and leader, but also that he’s had fun doing this.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” he says. I’ve done school projects, but planning an event for a whole library branch? Never.”

As for what’s next? Allen is finishing high school and applying what he’s learned as an intern, in and out of school. “I’ll definitely be putting everything I learned here on my resume!”

We can’t wait to see his event (and the rest of the stacked line-up) play out! Thanks, Allen, and teens!

ChiTeen Lit Fest is an annual weeklong gathering to celebrate teen talents in storytelling and literary arts. Each year, donor-powered program, YOUmedia, gives thousands of teens the opportunity to safely explore their creative interests, connect with peers, and build 21st-century skills. With your gift, we can continue to help support more teens in their successful transition to adulthood.