Talking with Bestselling YA Author Adib Khorram

Meet one of the most popular new young adult authors, Adib Khorram, at the library Wed, Feb 26. His hilarious and heartbreaking debut novel, Darius the Great Is Not Okay, received critical and readers’ acclaim. Khorram won the William C. Morris Debut Award and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature.

book cover Darius the Great is Not OkayBecky Albertalli, author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda described Khorram’s novel as, “Heartfelt, tender, and so utterly real. I’d live in this book forever if I could.”

Khorram has been surprised by the success of his first book. “Seeing it become popular has been surreal,” said Khorram. “At some level I always thought I was the only one who ever felt the way I did. But I managed to get at something universal in Darius’s story. Still not sure how I managed it!”

Darius the Great is Not Okay explores mental illness and racial issues as Darius struggles with depression. Darius Kellner is a self-described fractional-Persian who has never felt like he fit in anywhere. That is, until he goes to Iran to visit his grandparents and befriends the boy next door, Sohrab. Darius and Sohrab finally feel they have found a place where they belong, together. Khorram presents a truthful coming-of-age story of friendship and discovering yourself when and where you least expect it. 

“With so many young people dealing with mental health challenges, I think we need more authentic stories, especially intersectional ones,” said Khorram. “I also hope they [readers] come away seeing Iran and Iranians as real and human.”

photo of Adib Khorram

Adib Khorram

Currently, Khorram is not a full-time writer. He works as a graphic designer and videographer in Kansas City, Missouri, where he was born and raised. In addition to writing books, his interests include trying new tea, CrossFit, ice skating, video games and Kansas City barbecue.

Khorram was in seventh grade when he discovered his love for writing. He got his start in writing as many other authors do, with fanfiction. “My friends and I signed up for this after-school activity where we got to go write on these old computers, and we wrote stories about us going on adventures, usually Star Trek themed,” said Khorram

He is currently working on the sequel to Darius the Great is Not Okay and he gave us a small teaser. “Darius the Great Deserves Better is a companion novel and follows Darius’s junior year as he navigates his first boyfriend, making friends on the soccer team, his dream internship, and family drama,” said Khorram.

Mark your calendar to be part of a conversation with Khorram and get your book signed Wed, Feb 26, 7-8:30pm.

Full Interview with Adib Khorram

How did you get your start writing? What was your inspiration for Darius the Great Is Not Okay?

I started writing in seventh grade or so, as so many writers do, with fanfic. My friends and I signed up for this after-school activity where we got to go write on these old computers, and we wrote stories about us going on adventures, usually Star Trek themed. I guess you could say they were self-insert fanfics.

As for Darius, I was visiting my family in Vancouver for Nowruz when the idea for this nerdy kid who was named after this titanic historical figure came into my mind and never let go.

Congratulations on such a successful book debut. As this was your first book, what was your greatest fear about releasing it to the public. How did it feel to see it become so popular?

I don’t know about fears. There’s always the worry no one will like it. But I worked hard on it and felt like it was the best it could be. Seeing it become popular has been surreal. At some level I always thought I was the only one who ever felt the way I did. But I managed to get at something universal in Darius’s story. Still not sure how I managed it!

What was your greatest challenge in writing in such detail about Iran even though you have never been able to go? How does it feel to see that a story with a main character that is Iranian has been so popular and accepted?

Making sure I did it justice! I spent a lot of time reading, talking to people, and using Google Street View.
The response has been incredible. Young readers have so much empathy and it’s been awesome to see them embrace Darius and his story.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay explores many aspects of mental illness, but you are very careful to portray them in an accurate light. How important do you think it is to continue to showcase mental illnesses this way in the YA genre?

Statistics seem to show increased numbers of diagnoses of mental illness in all populations. How much is due to better reporting and how much is do to adults making the world into a capitalist nightmare, I’m not sure. With so many young people dealing with mental health challenges, I think we need more authentic stories, especially intersectional ones.

How did you build such a strong relationship between Darius and Sohrab? Did you take inspiration from your own life for any of the characters and/or their relationship?

I have been fortunate in that I have had a very close friend group since I was eight years old. But that made it hard to write about a new and intense friendship. I ended up drawing a lot from my new adult friendships, people I found in my twenties and formed immediate and intense friendships with.

What do you hope readers will take away from Darius the Great Is Not Okay?

I firmly believe in books belonging to their readers, so on one level I hope readers take whatever they need from it. But I guess I also hope they come away seeing Iran and Iranians as real and human.
Are you working on any new novels currently? If so, can you give us a small teaser?
I am! Darius the Great Deserves Better is a companion novel and follows Darius’s junior year as he navigates his first boyfriend, making friends on the soccer team, his dream internship, and family drama.

What are a few great books you’ve recently read, and what did you love about them?

Shaun David Hutchinson’s The State of Us (expected release June 2020) delighted me! It had a great romance, amazing exploration of queer identity and public expression, and a really nuanced and critical look at how we deal with family members who hold beliefs that dehumanize people like us.
Dr. Ibram X Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist is essential reading. It’s all in the title.

Who are some of your favorite authors? Are there authors that inspire your own work?

Laurie Halse Anderson is my guiding light. She speaks truth to power, cares deeply for her audience and uses her platform to lift others up.
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Is there a book in your tote bag that would surprise us?

My tote bag usually has my edits in it! I print out my edits and stick them in a three ring binder, but it doesn’t fit into my backpack.

Washburn University Journalism student Sarah Miller is our communications intern for winter 2019.