In honor of Pride Month, we asked recent Stonewall Award winners and honorees Leah Johnson (You Should See Me in a Crown), Kyle Lukoff (Too Bright to See), and Abdi Nazemian (Only This Beautiful Moment) to discuss how they celebrate queerness in their novels, and their hopes for the future of LGBTQ+ literature for young people.

Abdi Nazemian: Happy Pride, Leah and Kyle. I’m a big fan of both of you as writers and as people, so I’m excited to learn more from you and about you in this conversation. With another Pride Month upon us, perhaps we can begin by talking about one literary Pride wish we have this season. I’ll start by saying that I hope to see more queer books in translation, especially for young readers. As an Iranian American who has lived in many countries, I often feel like conversations about Pride in our country and on our bookshelves don’t feel global enough. And for me, the queer community is a global community.

Okay, what would be your one literary Pride wish?

Leah Johnson: I love this question, Abdi, and think it’s the perfect place to start a conversation about Pride this year! I’ve been thinking a lot about Pride not only as a source of celebration but also about its roots as a radical form of resistance. I find myself asking, “What do we owe each other? And how can we use our stories and our positions as writers to continue to resist?” So, my literary Pride wish this season is that when folks talk about Pride, we center the voices and stories of subjugated peoples across the globe—particularly people in Gaza, whose libraries have been leveled and whose writers have lost or limited access to avenues to do this work. Community care has found its way into a lot of my writing lately.

Kyle, do you find yourself celebrating queerness or Pride differently in your work now than when you published your first book?

Kyle Lukoff: Hi, friends! That is a great opening question, and Abdi, I want to know how you would respond to Leah, as well.

My literary Pride wish is, I think, for more books that focus on what queer communities talk about and struggle with amongst each other. I’ve seen LGBTQ&tc books evolve, slowly, from one lone character against the world, to the idea that we exist within particular cultural contexts, and I want to see that continue to develop. What do we talk about when there are no straight people in the room, and how can we responsibly bring those conversations, conflicts, inside baseball out for a broader audience without diluting it, or without giving outsiders too much specialized knowledge?

On that note, what I’d be curious to learn from both of you is, how do we honor the reality that young queer people are constantly creating and re-creating these communities, sometimes struggling through the same problems we did, and sometimes creating brand-new problems for their peers to struggle through? How do we avoid finger-wagging at them about “back in my day” and “kids these days”?

Also, Leah, the way in which I celebrate Pride in my work is changing, slowly, alongside larger cultural shifts. My trans characters have gone from heartwarming conversations with loving parents to a kid on his own who smashes up a politician’s office with a baseball bat—which, let’s be real, is very much in the spirit of Stonewall.

Nazemian: It’s important for me to remind myself and my young readers that resistance and celebration don’t need to be divided from each other. They often go hand in hand in communities, just as joy and sadness coexist in us as individuals. When speaking with ACT UP members and researching their activism for Like a Love Story, I was moved by the fact that they celebrated as much as they raged. Similarly, when exploring queer life in Iran (yes, it exists, as it does in Gaza, and everywhere else in the world) for Only This Beautiful Moment, I was also reminded that for all the repression and injustice, community and creativity still find ways to flourish. And our responsibility as artists is to help build community and connection whenever we can.

I personally love that young people continually re-create the world, just as we once did. If it weren’t for them, I probably never would have written any of the books I’m proudest of. The young deserve our curiosity, and they also deserve our stories. This brave new generation’s demand for diverse, truthful storytelling inspired me to stop hiding myself in my own stories and start putting all my loves, wounds, joys, and fears onto the page. So I’m grateful to the young, and to my own children and all the students I visit for educating me as much as I hopefully educate them. I grew up with no stories that reflected my own, and I also grew up with my history hidden from me—my Iranian history hidden behind layers of trauma, and my queer history unavailable to me in those pre-internet days. I’ve always felt that young people need to place themselves in history as they figure out how to move forward in the world. The great joy and surprise of writing my books—which have dealt with subjects like 1980s AIDS activism, the Iranian Revolution, and the history of Western invention in the Middle East—has been how receptive young readers have been to the stories, and how excited many have been to dig deeper into our collective histories.

Onward. At a time where we’re seeing books being banned, student voices being silenced, journalists and writers being killed and incarcerated around the world, I have to remain hopeful about the power of art and storytelling to build bridges and open hearts. On that note, what is something that gives each of you hope right now?

Johnson: I edited a middle grade anthology called Black Girl Power, which we’re gearing up to release in November. And one of the great joys of working on the project, in addition to writing alongside so many of my friends and faves, has been pushing the conversations about Black girlhood—Black childhood in general—even further than we could a few years ago. This book is so much more playful and diverse and whimsical and wonderful than I could have dreamt up when we sold it. Which speaks to the ever-evolving landscape of publishing, I think. With every new book announced with Black kids being magical and mysterious, or happy and queer, or silly and in love, I see a more expansive future for children’s literature than I could see when I got started in this industry.

Which, as you’re saying, Abdi, comes with renewed—though not necessarily “new”—and outrageous challenges. And to your point, Kyle—which I’m jotting down because I’m going to be thinking about it long after this conversation—I think the next turn for all of us is writing free from the external gaze. What happens when we divest from the desire from validation from the academy or the gatekeepers? There’s an Ocean Vuong quote that speaks to so much of what we’re all saying: “Often we see queerness as deprivation. But when I look at my life, I saw that queerness demanded an alternative innovation from me. I had to make alternative routes.”

So, I guess my longwinded way of answering the question is that the alternate routes that both of your stories provide give me hope. The innovation I see in the children I meet doing school visits gives me hope. And is it gauche to say that being deeply, sickeningly in love right now gives me hope? Because it does. I’m Black and queer and in love and I’m writing Black queer love stories for a living, and I’m not sure that I believed that was possible at 16. So, yeah. I’m filled with rage about so much this Pride. But also, hopeful. And that feels radical.

Lukoff: Leah, I want to know everything off-page!! That’s so exciting. And that feels like a great point to close with, the ways that love really can transform you and the world. Not in an anodyne, branded-content, commercial “Love Is Love” kind of way, but the kind of love that invites you to realize that laws, borders, and binaries are all veiled threats backed up by state sanctioned violence, and we don’t need them. That’s what some—but of course not all—of our queer ancestors wanted for us, those new and liberated possibilities for love, family, and community, and the revolutionary horizons that will someday make them possible for everyone regardless of their orientation.