An exclusive literary circle of close friends

This blog post is by Carl M. Program & Volunteer Support Librarian.

It's the best two days of work for me, each and every year. 

For over a decade I’ve helped organize small groups of teenagers from local high schools and libraries to read and then interview the authors of new young adult titles at the Tucson Festival of Books. It’s captivating listening to these young people ask thoughtful questions of authors who are writing for and about them. The teens are always enthusiastic and engaged, the authors always kind and generous—I often feel like I’ve snuck into an exclusive literary circle of close friends and got the best seat in the house.

Pull up a chair and have a listen!

You can find the full video interviews on YouTube and the full audio interviews on SoundCloud. Before you watch or listen, though, keep reading as we've included reflections from teen participants!

Mallory O., PCPL Virtual Volunteer on interviewing Elana K. Arnold (video, audio)

For me, the Tucson Festival of Books has always been a staple of growing up in Tucson. As a kid, my parents would take me to see children’s authors and listen to talks, get snacks, and take my pictures with the dressed-up book characters (my favorite being Madeline in her signature blue coat) under the sunny March skies. However, as life tends to saddle adolescence with more responsibility and the paramount event that was the COVID-19 pandemic, years passed for me without having walked through the U of A Mall as part of this traditional Tucson event.

Last year, I started volunteering for the Pima County Public Library’s Virtual Volunteer Program, run by Carl Murdock. In the fall of 2023, I signed up to interview one of the authors as part of the teen interviews conducted by the Library. When we were picking out an author to interview, I skimmed down the long list. My eyes then became hooked on three words: The Blood Years. The ominous title intrigued me. Although I had never heard of the book or author before, I was eager to start reading it. I worked through the book slowly. Arnold pulled me into the story of Frederieke, a young Jewish girl in Czernowitz during World War II. With a rich and detailed exposition, Arnold placed me in Frederieke’s apartment, her ballet studio, and Opa’s jewelry store. When I read the scene where Opa is murdered, tears streamed down my face. Arnold’s writing style flooded me with the emotions of her protagonists in such a way that it lingered in my mind for days. Once I finished reading the book, the opportunity to interview Arnold was even more alluring. In the weeks in between finishing the book and the interview, I ordered another one of Arnold’s books: What Girls Are Made Of. Again, I was immersed in the story of one of Arnold’s protagonists. For a few weeks, I worked with Nina in the dog shelter and saw St. Theresa in Italy.

When I first saw Arnold walk into the interview, I remember thinking about how much I loved her marigold yellow sweater. The color had an essence of brilliance and accomplishment. As she answered each question about rhetoric, style, her writing process, and the pets she has, Arnold weaved wisdoms about the world and art and life and gender and age that I could not get enough of. As someone who loves creative writing more than anything in this world, I connected with Arnold when she mentioned her journey as a writer. Arnold’s thoughtful responses and gripping poems of advice left me surprised when an hour had passed. After the interview, Arnold signed our copies of The Blood Years. I now consider this one of my most prized possessions because in distinct, larger than life blue Sharpie, Arnold had written “Build the world with love.”

I walked away from my experience as an interviewer not only with a greater insight about literature and Arnold’s works, but as well as my place in the world. As I near the mammoth process of college applications and making decisions about my future in the coming school year, Arnold’s words gave me the permission to dream about a life where maybe I could be in her seat someday. I would be in a marigold sweater and answering questions about my book and maybe, just maybe, I will get to build the world with love.

Eve J., student at Tanque Verde High School on interviewing Hafsah Faizal (video, audio)

I loved the opportunity to interview Hafsah Faizal at the Tucson Festival of Books! Talking to an author is such an inspiring experience. I could really feel how much work and dedication she put into her books and how much she cared about them. We read books all the time, but never think about where they come from. Every book has a person behind it who spent a lot of time writing it and making it the masterpiece that it is. I'm very grateful for everyone who makes this opportunity happen and I would encourage everyone who gets the chance to participate in interviewing an author!

Christine L., student at Tanque Verde High School on interviewing Gene Yang and LeUyen Pham (video, audio)

Participating in the author interview was an enlightening experience getting to glimpse into the process of an author. When I first saw the opportunity to interview Gene Leun Yang and LeUyen Pham about their new book, I got so excited. I was impressed that the school actually offered that and that it was even a thing that the Tucson Festival of Books would let us do. I read my books on them immediately and drafted up a ton of questions. After that, every week my group and I met up to discuss our plan. Since we all read at least one of the same books by the authors we all understood what each of our thoughts meant. Then when it became the day of the author interview, I was so nervous, but when I met Gene and LeUyen my nervousness melted away. It was such a great experience where I got to learn the whole personal experience of the process of writing a graphic novel. I felt so special as it is such a different type of experience than what you would normally have at the Tucson Festival of Books and I am so grateful that I was able to have this experience.

Hannah L., student at Tanque Verde High School on interviewing Gene Yang and LeUyen Pham (video, audio)

The interview of Gene Luen Yang and LeUyen Pham was a ton of fun! I heard about the opportunity to interview an author through the Lit Club at my high school. I also heard that past interviews were fun, so I signed up for it. I read Lunar New Year Love Story, and I really enjoyed it! I don’t really read graphic novels or romances, so that was a first for me in both those aspects, and I was surprised how good it was. On the day of the interview, I was a little nervous because I didn’t really know anything about the authors and I didn’t want to be bored, but I was completely wrong in my fears. That was because Gene and LeUyen were dynamic! They were so funny chatting back and forth and they were very eager to answer all of the questions we had for them. They were especially eager to answer the questions: What is your favorite color, favorite animal, and favorite rom com? My favorite part of the interview process was when we finished the formal interview and got to get our book signed by Gene and LeUyen. LeUyen drew a portrait of me in my book and Gene drew one of the characters saying that it was for me. Overall, they were such cool people and I am very happy that I got the opportunity to interview them!