The National Book Awards, due to be given out on Wednesday evening, gathered its 2022 finalists for Young People’s Literature on Tuesday morning at a Teen Press Conference, an opportunity for the authors to share their works with local students.

The 92nd Street Y in New York City welcomed approximately 600 young readers from 18 schools across the city to meet authors and hear them speak.This year’s finalists are All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir (Razorbill), The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes (Balzer + Bray), Maisy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee (Random House), The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin), and Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes, and Dawud Anyabwile (Norton Young Readers).

The morning opened with a greeting from Jordan Smith, deputy director of the National Book Foundation, describing the National Book Awards as “the Grammys or the Oscars, except instead of celebrating music or movies, we’re celebrating books.” Smith also shared the importance of books, now more than ever, amid rising book bans. “In parts of our country, books are being kept from schools, libraries, and students of all ages because adults in power have decided the content of those books is inappropriate. Oftentimes these are books that deal with topics such as racism, sexuality, gender expression. These are real topics that matter to all of us. Without the chance to read books that help us understand and learn more about ourselves and about others it’s hard to create a more just world.”

Author Rita Williams-Garcia hosted event. She opened with a brief introduction about her own work and shared her journey to becoming an author before introducing each of the National Book Award finalists, to raucous applause from the audience.

Each author read a short portion of their book, before the conference opened up to questions from the audience, with students raising their hands in excitement, waiting to speak with the guests of honor.

Sonora Reyes shared the media that influenced Lesbiana’s Guide, noting that their Spotify playlist helped emphasize the tone for the romance they were looking for, citing “Take You to Church” by Hozier and “Sinners” by Lauren Aquilina.

Barnhill said of The Ogress and the Orphans, “I wrote this book by accident.” It arose from her morning ritual of crafting short fairy tales for herself and her beloved dog, when she recognized something unique in one particular tale. “I wrote one that I just read out loud, and I thought, I’m not ready to throw this one away.” Barnhill said.

For Lisa Yee, Maizy Chen has been “the book of my heart. When I first started writing, I don’t think I could have written it.” Yee has written more than 20 novels, but with this one she wanted to “write something about my family history.”

All My Rage originated for Sabaa Tahir from “a lot of unresolved issues, and I didn’t want to pay for therapy.” Giving a nod to the book’s title, Tahir said she was navigating what it felt like to be young and overwhelmed with rage. “I was trying to figure out a way to express that it’s okay to be angry, and that as a young person, I had a lot to be angry about. And that didn’t make me a bad person.”

Olympian, activist, and author Tommie Smith shared why his collaboration with Barnes and Anyabwile had to be a visual story as opposed to a strictly written one. “I always want it to be seen, because if you’ve never been heard, then you’ve never been seen,” Smith said. “And so to find something that you can use to inspire others, that motivated me to tell my life story.”

Students each received a free copy of one of the finalists’ books, and the event closed with a book signing.