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BookUp Texas Students Interview 2011 NBA Winner Thanhha Lai

Inside Out & Back Again, by Thanhha LaiStudents in our BookUp Texas program recently had a Skype conversation with Thanhha Lai, Winner of the 2011 National Book Award in Young People’s Literature for her novel-in-verse, Inside Out & Back Again. Afterward, Lai was kind enough to answer the students’ follow-up questions via email.

BookUp: How old were you when you got your book published?

Thanhha Lai: I was 46.

BU: Did you write you book on paper or through a computer?

TL: I wrote on a computer because I was a journalist and trained to type really fast.

BU: Did you go through hard times in your life?

TL: Yes, Alabama was a shock. But you do get over it.

BU: What were some obstacles you faced?

TL: I had to learn English really quickly to face down fourth-grade bullies.

BU: Were you influenced by anyone to write this book?

TL: The idea to condense a lot into quick, crisp phrases came from reading The Tale of Kieu by Nguyen Du.

BU: Is this a novel or a poem?

TL: Both. It is a novel written in short poems to reflect how a 10-year-old would think in Vietnamese but for some magical reason you are able to read her thoughts in English.

BU: In your author's note you said you sailed on a ship. Did you get seasick? What was that like?

TL: I didn’t get seasick, but I got bored. The first few days were fun. We saw sharks and dolphins and bathed with salt water on deck. Then all that got old as I realized it wasn’t some quick trip, that the ship wasn’t turning around, that we were short on water and snacks. We had enough rice, but I wanted all the salty and sugary snacks that I was very attached to.

Thanhha Lai


Thanhha Lai
was born in Vietnam and moved to Alabama in 1975. She lives in New York City with her family and teaches writing at Parsons School of Design. Inside Out & Back Again is her first book.