I was honored a few weeks back when Tricia Friedman asked me to be on her podcast, Be A Better Ally. The podcast aired today, and you can listen to it here.
Below is a transcription of the podcast so you can read long if you prefer. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
Hi and welcome back to the podcast. My name is Tricia Friedman. pronouns are she her and hers. Happy August. August is an important month for the nonprofit organization Pride and Less Prejudice. This is the time of year where they announce the books that they will be sharing with classrooms. If you are not familiar with the nonprofit organization Pride and Less Prejudice, please please head over to the shownotes click the link to learn all about the amazing, important work they do and ways that you can reach out to support them.
If you like listening to this show, there's another podcast that you might also want to explore. It's one of my must listen shows it is, "If These Ovaries Could Talk". To learn more about that podcast head on over to the shownotes. Over there in the show notes you are also going to be able to find loads of links to learn more about today's guest Taleen Voskuni.
Taleen is the author of the soon to be published book Sorry, Bro. It was an absolute joy and privilege to speak with Taleen about her process and about the ways in which this book is absolutely groundbreaking. It is available for preorder now. Then again, you'll find links to learn more about that book. Sorry, Bro. In the show notes.
I also want to say, Trisha, thank you so much for this opportunity. I'm really excited to be here. So I'm Taleen Voskuni, and I'm a writer living in San Francisco. And my debut book is a queer Armenian rom com called Sorry, bro.
And I'm really, really excited to get to talk about that book. Sorry, bro. I'm actually hoping we can start off by asking you to expand a little bit about what you said was the inspiration for that book. So Taleen, bear with me, I'm gonna quote you. Back to you for a moment you've said quote, there are so few books on the Armenian Diaspora experience very few light hearted ones and even fewer LGBTQIA stories, Armenians deserve joyous stories. Queer Armenians even more so I wanted to give visability to the forgotten people within a forgotten people and give them a happy ending, end quote, I'm hoping again, you might just talk a little bit more about the ways in which that inspiration came to you and perhaps how it also shows up in the book.
Yeah, absolutely. And to talk about inspiration, I want to talk very quickly about the Armenian canon of literature. Most of it from what I've read—I'm not a scholar in the area, but I've read a decent amount of books written by Armenians—they're quite serious and sad, and it makes sense. The history of the Armenian people is filled with tragedy and unrequited recognition. There's Armenian Genocide in 1915 at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, and it's still unrecognized in Turkey. And in fact, it's a crime to speak about it in Turkey. And in the US, it was actually only just recognized last year, I believe, by President Biden. Before then presidents when they became sitting presidents could not say the word genocide because of America's ties and reliance on Turkey. So when I say unrequited, it really is, even in the US.
So there is a lot to be sad about and there's a lot to unpack still. So it makes sense. There are other writers out there, very sophisticated authors, doing really brilliant work in the realm of more serious Armenian writing, but I didn't feel like it was for me, I don't feel like I'm a scholar in this area. There's just something I want to— I want to bring a lightness to our culture and our people. I felt like it's something that wasn't talked about as much. I've seen it in some Armenian romantic comedy movies, films, but not in books very much. If I may say, at all, actually.
So I didn't even think that I could write about my Armenian experience until recently. Which is funny, I've been living it my whole life but it didn't dawn on me until 2020. I wrote Sorry, Bro in the summer and fall of 2020. And the first spark of Sorry, Bro came to me a few months before that, when I was sitting on the train on the way to work, pre-pandemic, hearing the voices of these two women talking to each other and one was saying something like, can't we have just one conversation with Armenians without bringing up the Armenian genocide and the other woman kind of gently and curiously correcting her, because yes, Sorry Bro is a romcom but I still wrote this book with an Armenian Genocide recognition subplot. I couldn't write it without it, the two are too tied together.
So it's funny, it is humorous, but it still has that. Nar's journey embracing her Armenianness, actually kind of parallels mine as an as a writer to where I rejected parts of my Armenianness for too long or just refused to see it, and then really embraced it and so fully that I wrote a book about it, and it worked out.
And in terms of the happiness and the queerness, you know, I wanted it happy. I wanted it queer. There aren't that many happy Armenian stories and it feels almost subversive and different to give Armenians a happy ending, especially for queer Armenians. It's still in a way taboo in our culture to talk about it openly. Less so now, but still, I mean. The only—it hurts my heart—but the only kind of negative comment I got on my cover reveal (and I got so many wonderful, sweet comments) was from an Armenian man. Just saying something ignorant about queer women. It wasn't super hateful. It was just sort of ignorant. So I wanted to take away that pain in this book and show that we can have happy endings for queer Armenians. So that's how I came to write this book.
Thank you for sharing that that sort of, you know, behind the scenes inspiration origins story. Each chapter of the book opens with an Armenian proverb and I'm really curious to learn a little bit more about the writing process there. Might you just talk about a few of the proverbs you selected and paired with chapters? Sid you start with knowing what the proverb was or was that an after?
Yeah, I so I first got the idea, the Proverbs, from Nancy Kricorian, who's Armenian author. And she started posting these proverbs on Twitter and I was so taken by them—actually hadn't heard most or all of them ever before—but I just felt like, here's this piece of our culture. I don't know how I got the idea for but I thought I love when chapters open with a quote or teach them something. So I thought, perfect thing to do for the Proverbs.
So I started, I actually wrote the books first then added proverbs. Nancy also pointed me in the direction of a book of, a collection of Proverbs. So I highlighted all the ones I thought could work, then I typed them out and then I went back and paired them. Some are—one of the one of the first ones I saw was, "a good girl is worth seven boys", which just made me laugh so hard, like I can't believe that this is one of our proverbs. I love it. I knew it had to be opening to this book. And actually my mentor, Jessie Q Sutanto, who wrote "Dial A for Aunties", said that as soon as she read that, quote, she already fell in love with the book. So I think it was a good choice to have that open and set the tone.
The proverbs are pretty traditional, but some are kind of funny, like, "I like him as much as I like the smoke in my eyes". That was fun a chapter when one her work situations is not going so well. And so I also wanted to include some I don't personally agree with but they fit the Armenian community mindset and more traditional mindset, like, "speech is silver, silence is golden," or "who is preferably heard? The rich and the handsome." So you know, but honestly, they were so easy to pair with the chapters. I was surprised and I had many, many extra that could have worked, so yeah, it was a lot of fun to do.
Yeah, I just I also really like when when books do that, so it was interesting for me a little bit of again additional learning about Armenian culture. Taleen, in an interview published on Azad Archives, which I will link to in the show notes, you said that when you were writing this book, your intended first reader was your sister. In a few months when this book is available—and it is right now for pre order, and we know that pre ordering books is a great way to support authors. It's really important that if can do it or, again, remind your librarian to make sure they've got plenty of copies ready. So when the book is finally in the hands of many, many readers, what are some of the questions that you hope that your readers may leave your book with?
Yeah, I mean, well, first, it just kind of a terrifying prospect having an audience of strangers to read my work. It's thrilling, but also terrifying. I do hope at the end of it, I will have sparked some curiosity about the Armenian American experience and some interest in basic Armenian history.
I do know that many people don't know about the Armenian Genocide or don't know much about it. So really, it is one of my deep goals with this book to share that with the wider public. And especially the fact that is still relevant today, which the protagonist learns throughout the book, that it's not just something in the past, that is still has repercussions today. So I mean, even if some readers do a basic Google search about Armenian history after reading this book, I'll be pleased. But it would be nice for readers to wonder why they haven't heard about or heard much about Armenian Genocide because there are definitely some interesting answers there.
I think I would also love for readers to think about why I decided to write a coming out story when it feels like, you know, we often hear and for good reason, I'll talk about this that the queer community you know, doesn't want these coming out stories anymore. And because I do believe the sentiment that we're so much more than a coming out story. I 100% believe that but I do think that there are still communities that haven't had their voices heard hear that coming out is still a huge deal, and hasn't been examined yet and needs to be examined. So I would love readers think about that too, and maybe what other communities still need their voices heard in this area.
Absolutely. And again, it'll be really interesting to see the conversation that comes out once the book is available. This past July, we did get you know, again, a little bit of a hint or a clue about what the book might be about when your cover reveal was shared. And I know you've referred to your book as a quote love letter to the diaspora community. The cover is stunning. First of all, congratulations. I'm wondering as the author, when you look at the book cover what really resonates with you or you know, can you point out a detail on the cover art that kind of matches your vision and hopes for the book.
Yeah, and I'm so overjoyed with my cover, I can't believe that I have this beautiful cover forever. It's mine. The Armenian elements are so important to me. So you know, the first element that the artist sketched out was the pomegranate garland, and I couldn't believe my eyes. I loved it so much. Pomegranates are really important symbol for Armenians of like fertility abundance. And Armenians have them all over their homes—I'm at my parent's home right now and I know that they have pomegranates sticking out here and there; they're scattered like statues. So any diaspora Armenian home you go into, they most likely have pomegranates and they have a lot of them too. So that just feels very Armenian-American to me.
Also on the cover, there's our main coffee called sourj, and sourj is such a part of the culture, the tradition. I have memories of going to family friends houses and them pouring it for us or helping serve it, and it's—it feels like home to me. And so, when they first made the cover, they they said they weren't sure they were going to be able to get the coffee cups on there. And I was really bummed and I kind of pressed like, "Can we please?" because there's sort of a seminal scene in the book involving Armenian coffee. And they did it and it just works so well. It makes it feel so much more Armenian. I think having, seeing the coffee cups there, and the jezveh, which is the coffee pot. So that's that's amazing. And not to mention there are two Armenian women on the cover, which is so cool. So that feels very different and new to me to really visually see all this on the cover of the book. Especially a commercial book.
Yeah. And it really, you know, it's funny, I feel like I've seen people on social media joking about how for the past few years, there's been this trend in cover art to just have blobs of color and in a way, your cover is so refreshing. It is this this piece of art. So, again, I'm glad to hear that you like it too, because I guess sometimes authors don't necessarily have a lot of autonomy so it's really great to hear that you also really like it.
I have a lot of listeners who are librarians and they are always wondering whenever an author comes on the show, whether or not you do any kind of you know virtual talks with schools or if there are ways in which you connect with students. If there are can you let us know what the best way is to reach out to you or your publisher?
Oh yes, I would absolutely love love to do that. So the best way to reach out to me is probably via email. And we can include that but I'll also just mentioned firstname.lastname@example.org Because I am the only Taleen Voskuni so pretty easy to find me over the internet. And I would be very happy to chat.
Great and again, we'll make sure to include that in the show notes. We have the link to your site. We've got the link to preorder the book and to the links that I referred to in the show.
Taleen Thank you so much for coming on and talking about your upcoming book, Sorry, Bro. I really look forward to the conversation that starts as a result of all of your hard work and creativity. Congratulations again on the new book.
Thank you so much for having me. It was so fun to speak with you. I appreciate it.
Listeners, please do leave a rating. Please consider leaving a review as well. It helps so much when generous listeners like you rate the show. If you are also interested in continuing to add to your to be read shall watch out for an upcoming episode with the author, Kacen Callender. That's coming up soon so be sure you're subscribed to the podcast. Thanks again for listening. This podcast, the work I do with Allyed.org. If you're in K-12 education and you are passionate about ways that we can work together to make schools more LGBTQ plus inclusive, head over to allyed.org That's allyed.org.