Publishers' Preview: Debut Authors: Arya Shahi

This interview originally appeared in the July/August 2023 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Debut Authors, 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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An Impossible Thing to Say gives us a Persian American teen coming of age at the turn of the twenty-first century and finding his own distinctive voice.

1. What was the first song to change your life?

The songs that shifted my worldview as a young person are in the book, but nothing compares to “Bremen” by PigPen Theatre Co. It was the first song I made with people I loved that found a massive audience. It taught me about trust and how small acts can build big communities.

2. If your family were to have a mehmooni tonight, what would be your contribution to the sixth course?

I’d probably perform a poem about never having anything to perform at a mehmooni as a kid! The great thing about poetry is that you can tell people who you really are. The great thing about a mehmooni is that they’ll love you for it.

3. How would you get a young person to give Shakespeare a try?

If they’re not curious about Shakespeare, I’d try to help them notice all the ways storytelling shapes the world. Then I’d ask them what stories they enjoy: Romantic comedy? Midsummer. Mistaken identity? Twelfth Night. Prestige drama? Macbeth. Angsty teenage love? Romeo and Juliet. And so on!

4. What have you discovered about turning spoken-word art or rap into text on a page?

As a poet and rapper, I set a bar that my rhymes be in the pursuit of narrative. In a novel, that bar is on the roof of a skyscraper. And the elevator is broken. And you’re climbing the stairs without the support of a crowd or the salve of music. Text on the page is uniquely challenging because it’s the ultimate distillation of feeling into language. Which also makes it uniquely rewarding. The rooftop view is worth it.

5. How can you mend a broken heart?

The fun answer is “ice cream,” but mending a broken heart takes time. A broken heart is like a broken bone, it hurts so much you can barely move. But the pain will give way to motion. You’ll live to love another day. Eventually, you’ll realize how resilient your patched-up heart is. And you’ll celebrate with ice cream.

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Photo: Thom Kaine.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. 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 MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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