Growing up in Minnesota, a bustling hub of literary activity in the Midwest, Ari Tison understood that becoming a writer was a reachable goal. Tison spent her younger years up close and personal with literature, dictating stories to her writer stepmother to transcribe for her and attending children’s programming at her local literary center.
“I do feel lucky that I grew up in Minnesota, where there are so many authors I could go see as a kid,” Tison says. “That just really made my dream of being a writer feel like a possibility.”
Recognizing her passion for writing early on in life, Tison evolved from writing fictional stories about her sister’s dog to drafting novels by the time she was a teen, even taking college courses while in high school to help hone her writing skills. With the encouragement of mentors such as Alison McGhee, Tison went on to Hamline University, where she won the Vaunda Micheaux Nelson Award. There, Tison found her own voice by studying Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street and the work of Nikki Grimes, inspired by poetry and prose.
Tison’s dreams have become fully realized with the debut of her YA novel Saints of the Household (FSG). Structured in vignettes and verse, the novel centers Bribri American brothers Jay and Max as they navigate the fallout after a misguided act of violence makes them social pariahs at school, mirroring the cycle of violence the boys face at home. With the end of high school approaching, their once intertwined lives begin to diverge as they form new relationships, dive into their passions, and ruminate on their commitment to their family and to each other.
The journey to writing Saints of the Household began in 2017, when Tison was preparing for a workshop at Hamline, and in a moment of “magic” the voice of Jay, who would become one of the book’s central characters, came to her. “I had worked on so many other ideas, even picture books,” she says. “And then that voice just hit me, and I wrote down maybe 15 vignettes. I think it hit me because he is, in a way, super close and parallel to my own story.”
Once Tison committed to finishing the story, she continued to lean on community mentorship to kickstart her career. “I used that village, that community to connect with agents,” she says. “I signed with agent Sara Crowe [then with Pippin Properties], whom a lot of my Hamline faculty are represented by.”
After six months of revisions, the book began to go out on submission. With the novel’s nontraditional structure, Tison received several comments from editors along the lines of, “This is really beautiful and really unique, but I have no idea how to edit it.” But the rejections didn’t deter her.
In 2020, FSG senior editor Grace Kendall bought the title at auction for six figures in a two-book, world English rights deal. Tison says Kendall was the best fit because “she was pushing me to do something that I was kind of scared to do but wanted
to do.” Tison was also drawn to FSG for its reputation for supporting authors.
In March 2023, seven years after Tison heard the whispers of her characters, Saints of the Household made its debut, earning critical acclaim and three starred reviews. Her second book, a mystery novel, is slated for release in 2025 from FSG, and she has two anthologies in the works.
Tison is just grateful to be a part of it all. “I have zero expectations,” she says. “It means something if someone even reads one word that I write. Like, I did the work, and I just get to sit back and see what it does.”