Today, I have the great honor of doing an interview with Adib Khorram, author of the award-winning (and life-changing) Darius the Great is Not Okay.
First, here’s a bit about Adib (from his website)
ADIB KHORRAM is the author of DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY. If he’s not writing (or at his day job as a graphic designer), you can probably find him trying to get his 100-yard Freestyle under a minute, learning to do a Lutz Jump, or steeping a cup of oolong. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where people don’t usually talk about themselves in the third person. You can find him on Twitter (@adibkhorram), Instagram (@adibkhorram), or on the web at adibkhorram.com.
And here’s a bit of Darius the Great is Not Okay (again from his website):
Darius doesn’t think he’ll ever be enough, in America or in Iran.
Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s a Fractional Persian–half, his mom’s side–and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life.
Darius has never really fit in at home in Portland, and he just knows things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn’t exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Sohrab introduces Darius to all of his favorite things–mint syrup and the soccer field and a secret rooftop overlooking the city’s skyline. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, friends don’t have to talk. Sohrab calls him Darioush–the original Persian version of his name–and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab.
By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Adib Khorram’s brilliant debut is for anyone who’s ever felt not good enough–then met a friend who makes them feel so much better than okay.
And now for the interview!
Darius the Great is Not Okay is frequently included on lists for LGBT+ books, but in the book itself, Darius’ sexuality is never overtly stated. Was this an intentional decision/what drove that decision?
It was quite intentional. For me Darius’s story was always, always about friendship; I didn’t even realize he was queer until I was deep in revisions. I think it’s important to show pre-coming out queer narratives, and I think it’s important to show that queer identity is only one small part of people.
Darius has won quite a few literary awards which is incredible. What has been your most personally rewarding moment in the year since the book first released? (Doesn’t have to be literary award related!)
It’s hard to pick a rewarding moment—there have been so many—but I will share a trend that’s stuck with me. I do a lot of school visits and I talk about my own growing up as a queer kid, and a diaspora kid, and I love the conversations that spurs. Sometimes it’ll be a big discussion and the students will get to see their friends and classmates with greater empathy than before. And sometimes it’s a quiet moment of connection where a student is struggling with something and asks me for advice. Making life better for young readers is why I do this.
Darius portrays the quiet struggles of mental illness so well. After I made my mom read it, she told me, “now I understand you and your dad a little better.” Why was it important to you to include this mental health representation?
When I first started writing Darius back in 2015, it felt like there was a huge crop of books about mental illness that all dealt with suicide. While that’s certainly a possible outcome of living with depression, it’s not the only one, and I wanted to push back on that narrative.
You work a job outside of writing. Because of that, what does your typical writing day look like?
I don’t know that I really have a typical writing day! Sometimes my dayjob will be kind of slow and I’ll take time off to write. Sometimes it’ll be busy and get no writing in. Sometimes I’ll be on a job site but waiting for someone else to finish before I can do my work, and then I might squeeze in some writing there. My favorite writing days are when I can gather with some other local YA authors and we write, talk, and get lunch!
Your next sold book is a picture book. How has this process been different than the process for Darius?
With a novel, I’m in charge of describing everything in words. But with a picture book, I have to leave room for the illustrator. So much gets to go unsaid. It’s been so cool to work on something and know it’s going to be transformed into something even more amazing.
If you had the opportunity to co-write a YA novel with any author (living or dead), who would you pick and why? (And if you wouldn’t want to do a co-write, explain why.)
I met Lana Wood Johnson back in 2014 when we were both querying bad novels. We posted our queries for critique, ripped each others’ to shreds, and have been friends ever since. Her debut, TECHNICALLY, YOU STARTED IT came out this year, and it shares a lot of themes with Darius: nerds, queerness, mental health, parent relationships. I think we’d have a blast working on something fun and nerdy together!
Thank you so much to Adib for doing this interview with me! I’m still in shock that so many authors said yes, and I’m still shocked that Adib said yes.
Darius the Great is Not Okay is such an incredible book. You can read what I had to say about it here, and I included links below to check out.
Add Darius the Great is Not Okay on Goodreads
Buy Darius the Great is Not Okay
Add Seven Special Somethings (the forthcoming picture book) to Goodreads