Publishers' Preview: Spring 2021: Five Questions for Justina Ireland

This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2021 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Spring 2021, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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The first ghost Ophie saw was that of her recently lynched father, but when she and her mother flee north to Pittsburgh, she sees them everywhere. What do Ophie’s Ghosts want?

1. So, just between us: have you ever seen a ghost?

With deep historical research, you spend your waking hours with ghosts: those whose names are lost to popular historical record. History is at its worst when studied without empathy; learning about people’s lives, deaths, loves, and fears and trying to imagine yourself there creates a connection that feels like being haunted. But it becomes even more terrifying when you see those moments play out again on the nightly news. So, yes, I have seen a ghost. Just not in the way one would think.

2. Do you have a favorite young-woman-in-an-old-house book? (Mine’s Jane Eyre.)

Instead of going with my favorite I’ll go with my most recent, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic. It’s an enjoyable read that hits all the right notes and has a delightful twist.

3. Did you see the end of The Sixth Sense coming?

I watched The Sixth Sense with my platoon a lifetime ago, and did not see the twist coming. The movie is better for it. On rewatch it doesn’t crackle as much because you can see the signs — and knowing there will be a twist ruined every M. Night ­Shyamalan movie because I was forever after just looking for it. That’s no way to enjoy a film.

4. How do you think your service in the army has served your career as a novelist?

How hasn’t it? Our experiences inform our outputs, whether that be who we vote for or how we express ourselves when we get mad. Of course my time in the army influenced my writing; so has being a Black woman, living in different parts of the U.S., traveling abroad. I don’t think there’s always a one-to-one correlation. I learned about myself and other people in the army, the same way I learned about myself and others in college, at my first job, and so on. But! I did learn in the army that anything can be fixed by changing my socks and drinking water, so that’s been helpful.

5. What is one thing the We Need Diverse Books movement has taught you?

Comfortable people don’t like change, so you should always expect a fight when criticizing the status quo.

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Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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