Sarah Cypher on Discovering Language for What Obsesses You


Today, we bring you Sarah Cypher, author of THE SKIN AND ITS GIRL (Ballantine), a searing, poetic tale about a young, queer Palestinian American woman piecing together her great-aunt’s secrets in this debut,  and confronting questions of sexual identity, exile, and lineage.

Shelved asked Cypher about storytelling and the exploration of identity. Read on to learn more! 

Barriers to reading

Favorite reading spot and why?

My one gift to myself after selling this novel was a really comfy chair that I parked right by the sunny living room window, beneath a good lamp, and facing away from the television so that I can stay engrossed in a book with my headphones on. I wanted to call it “my chair,” except the dog now fights me for it, and my cat has already claimed a corner of its cushion for sharpening her claws. When I do get to use that chair for reading, the victory is pretty sweet.

One book at a time or too many to count?
Too many to count. Reading for research, pleasure, and work—as well as to keep up with my turn on the library holds list—makes book monogamy difficult.

The serious bookshelf

What are three books you wish you could send to every person in the U.S.?
That’s a lot of pressure! So many people get turned off reading because they’re given books they feel like they have to read, and it drains the joy of discovery. I’d love to take that hypothetical budget and just gift it to libraries and librarians, to help them keep doing the work of connecting the right reader to the right book at the right time.

Identity informs storytelling, but does the act of storytelling shape identity?
I think maybe both, but the processes travel in opposite directions. My identities guide what I find compelling to write about, but a big part of that interest is that I don’t yet have language for what is obsessing me. Writing is the process of finding that language, and it flows back to inform my sense of what I think is true about myself and the world, which is an aspect of identity.

Posted: April 26, 2023