Teens interview Guadalupe Garcia McCall, author of “Under the Mesquite,” during the ’13 Tucson Festival of Books. Teen Author Interviews will be held again this year. 

Photo by Pamela Park

Crystal Gillette is a self-declared “book nerd.”

That’s why she wrangled two interviews with visiting authors at the Tucson Festival of Books last year.

The Teen Author Interviews program organized by the Pima County Public Library connects groups of five or six teens with authors for audio interviews. Crystal interviewed Tamara Ireland Stone and Cinda Williams Chima at last year’s book festival.

“I liked realizing that authors aren’t mystical beings,” said Crystal, a 15-year-old, home school student. “They’re just real people. Their job is writing books, and they love what they’re doing.”

The library organized the first interview in 2010, involving teens plugged into library programs. This year, students will interview Matt de la Peña, Chris Crutcher, Cornelia Funke, R.L. Stine and Lois Lowry at the Teen Author area.

“There is always a focus on children and adults when books are involved, so we wanted to make sure there were some activities where teens were included and felt like they were part of what was going on at the festival, not just as a spectator or visitor, but as an active participant,” said Pamela Park, a young adult services librarian at the Nanini Branch Library and a liaison to the festival’s teen and children’s programming.

In 2010, Ana Noemi Verdugo interviewed Matt de la Peña after reading his book “Mexican WhiteBoy.” Not a big reader, this book hooked the Tucson High freshman. She read it three or four times. In 2012, she invited the author back to Tucson to speak at her high school, fundraising $1,000.He came despite blossoming controversy about Mexican-American studies programs in schools.

“I love the experience of reading the book,” said Verdugo, now a 19-year-old business student at Pima Community College. “Little details about his cousins and family, I could relate to my family. … It’s like coming together and making a bigger experience.”

Crystal’s interviews also inspired her to look at the big picture. She’s a little anxious about writing, but likes the idea of it.

“Writing doesn’t have to be hard, and sometimes I think it would be cool if I could write,” Crystal said. “These people are unorganized and crazy too, and they get this all out on paper.”

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at jwillett@azstarnet.com or 573-4357.

Writing about Tucson's heart and soul — its people, its kindness, its faith — for #ThisIsTucson.