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Leah Johnson

Indy Like a Local

Who is Leah?

An Indy native and author of award-winning kids’ and young adult books. Her debut, You Should See Me in a Crown, was named one of TIME’s 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time. Look for her next work, Ellie Engle Saves Herself, to be released in May 2023.

What piqued your interest in books and writing?

One of my favorite books of all time is Just Listen by Sarah Dessen. Sarah’s books were my gateway into love stories, and Just Listen had a hold on me from the moment I flipped past the first page, and has had a hold on me ever since. 

Your books have garnered numerous awards and accolades. What does it mean to have your work so highly praised?

There are two answers to this, and one of them is that you spend years of your life pouring yourself into your work—especially for books as personal as the ones I write. It’s like placing your heart in another person’s hand and asking them to treat it with care. I’m incredibly grateful for all the folks who have held my books with care, with or without the awards, that’s the great gift of my career.

The other answer is that in a moment where legal protections for queer people are being aggressively legislated out of existence, and queer books are being banned and challenged at record rates, it’s become increasingly important for me to remain loud and visible. My goal, always, is to show young people that it is possible to live a life honestly and without fear, regardless of those who believe we deserve to feel ashamed and invisible. Every award I win is a reminder that champions for queer stories still exist, and that our work can and will continue to reach readers everywhere.

Ellie Engle Saves Herself comes out later this spring (congratulations!) What is it like for you as the release date nears? Are you nervous, excited, worried about an extraneous comma?

I went a year without publishing a book, and now it feels like I’m debuting all over again! I forgot how exciting and terrifying it is to share a book with the world. At some point during the writing process, you have to know when to take your hands off the keyboard at the risk of tinkering with a project forever, and publishing a book feels the same way. No matter how many times I reread it, I’ll always find something I could add or subtract, but I’ve gotta take my hands off the keyboard and trust that what I’ve created is as good as I could possibly make it. Luckily, I’m currently working on the sequel, which has been a blast, and a good distraction while I wait for the book to be out!

What can you tell us about the recently announced books that you will cowrite with George M. Johnson?

I can tell you that George and I have a holiday rom-com with all the drag queens, small-town hijinks, and chaotic queerness that you could possibly want coming your way in 2025, and I personally think it’s going to knock your socks off.

What are some of your favorites in Indianapolis?

Prufrock Coffee is my go-to coffee shop now, but I used to live in Herron-Morton and when Foundry was in walking distance, I couldn’t get enough of their chai lattes. Ripple Bagel & Deli is great for a perfectly greasy refuel after a long night out, and Tinker Street’s burgers are just *chef’s kiss*. But my favorite of all favorites is Kids Ink, the independent children’s bookstore in Broad Ripple. It’s cute and cozy and owned by Shirley Mullin, one of my favorite people in the world.


Do you have any writing “quirks”? For example, do you always need to have a mug of your favorite tea or a certain playlist going in the background?

No quirks really! I used to be really precious about the conditions I could write in, but once I started having back-to-back deadlines, I learned to write anywhere and everywhere I could, and in any conditions. Nowadays, as long as I have my laptop and AirPods, I’m good to go.

What do you enjoy doing when not writing?

Not writing? What’s that? Just kidding. When I’m not writing, I’ve recently rediscovered my love of riding bikes, which has been great. I hadn’t done it since college, but I found a cute ride bike on sale last year, and have been zipping around my neighborhood ever since. I also have the two best dogs in the world, Tiny and Jessie Lou, and they don’t let me have much free time that doesn’t end with them getting lots of belly scratches, which keeps me pretty busy.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t adjust your voice or your goals to fit the mold of what’s popular right now. Trends change, critics are fickle, but what lasts is your relationship with the blank page. You owe your work honesty, and it’s hard to be honest when you’re not listening to your own heart.

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