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Q&A with UNC graduate, author Renée Ahdieh

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Renée Ahdieh is a UNC graduate and the author of "The Wrath and the Dawn," a New York Times Bestseller. Her sequel, "The Rose & The Dagger" comes out May 3. Staff writer Emily Perry spoke with Ahdieh via email about her first book, her success and her time at Chapel Hill. 

Daily Tar Heel: How has it been publishing a second book? Is this old hat for you now? What’s been different?

Renée Ahdieh: I really hope this never becomes old hat for me! It's still so surreal to walk into a bookstore and see my own book on the shelves. As trite as it sounds, it's like magic!

The second time around has definitely been different, but in a good way. It's nice to know what to expect, and it's wonderful being able to sit still and revel in the experience a bit more. Nerves are less an issue with the second book because I'm no longer dealing with something unknown; it's almost like breaking in a favorite pair of shoes. Now I get to wear them!

DTH: Tell me about about what it's like for you to have so much success coming out of the UNC writing program?

RA: That is such a kind thing to say! For me, I find success to be a moment in time. A moment in which I take a step back and savor an achievement. Almost like watching a soap bubble float on the air. I know this sort of success is transient, so I'd rather focus on fulfillment. Nothing I've ever done in my life as a job has felt more fulfilling than being a writer. UNC's English department helped me build an amazing foundation. The tireless efforts of the professors and the passion everyone around me exhibited for the written word were such a driving force behind me seeking to make this my chosen field.

DTH: What did you learn from UNC that has helped you?

RA: I really hope this article doesn't read like a series of Hallmark quotes, but being a student at UNC taught me how to live. It taught me what I sought in life and what to seek in people. I met my husband at Chapel Hill, and some of my closest friendships in the world were made hanging out on the eighth-floor balcony of Hinton James my freshman year.

DTH: Why do you think your books have gained so much recognition? What do you think resonates with people?

RA: I think, ultimately, people are looking for a good story. The fact that "The Wrath & The Dawn" highlights a different culture and a different period in time is a wonderful selling point, but even the hook-iest (I think I just made up a word) pitch will fizzle out if it's not grounded in a good story.

I also hear a lot of readers saying how much they admire the main character Shahrzad — she's strong in many different ways. Sure she's not bad with a bow and arrow, but I like writing well-rounded characters, and I especially appreciate it when a female character is strong in ways that aren't strictly based on traditionally male notions of strength.

DTH: Where is home for you now? What does it mean to you to return to Chapel Hill to promote or your second book?

RA: I live in Charlotte, which isn't too far from here. The entire experience of getting to share my work with other people is the culmination of a dream. And bringing it back to Chapel Hill? It's immensely gratifying.

DTH: What would be your advice to young writers?

RA: Never stop trying to be better. And don't quit when things get tough!

DTH: Any author idols or writing role models?

RA: I'm a huge fan of Isabel Allende and Anne Rice. I also love the poetry of Rumi. In terms of impact, Maya Angelou and Rabindranath Tagore have always stood out in my mind as role models. 

DTH: Anything I didn't ask that you would like to add?

RA: "The Rose & The Dagger" will be out on April 26th! It's the sequel to "The Wrath & The Dawn," and I hope everyone loves it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

@ecperry

arts@dailytarheel.com

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