B&T: In some of your earlier writing on the virtue of storytelling, you mention that stories often come to readers through five affective elements: Healer, Inspiration, Clarifier, Compassion, and Connector. Did any one of these elements start to rise above the rest as you were writing Louder Than Hunger? Can a story perform the work of healing, inspiring, and clarifying for the author, as well as the reader?

John Schu: I’ve been hoping someone would ask me this question. I love it! On March 24, 2021, Terry Thompson, the brilliant editor of The Gift of Story: Exploring the Affective Side of the Reading Life, informed me I was officially done revising the book. I didn’t think that day would ever come. I’m incredibly proud of that book. On March 25, 2021, I started writing Louder Than Hunger. The knowledge and skills I gleaned while writing about story as healer, story as inspiration, story as clarifier, story as compassion, and story as connector prepared me to tell this very personal story about my struggles with anorexia nervosa, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression. Writing Louder Than Hunger helped me heal my heart, inspired me to dig deeper within myself, and clarified why I care so much about connecting through story.


B&T: One of the key themes of the novel is space: how Jake feels when he takes up space, his own warped perception of his size, and the healing spaces he finds in his grandmother’s house, Whispering Pines, and within himself. As a novel written in poetic verse, the text of Louder Than Hunger often spreads itself wide and boisterously across the page, while at other times shrinking itself down to meager proportions. Did you decide to write a novel-in-verse before the themes of Louder Than Hunger developed, or did the narrative demand a flexible poetic form from the beginning?

John Schu: Thank you for noticing how Jake plays with the space on a page. Thank you for noticing that while Jake doesn’t usually feel comfortable taking up space in his everyday life, he’s very comfortable taking up a lot of space on the page. He loves playing around with the placement of words. He loves poetry.

I knew right away that Louder Than Hunger needed to be told in verse. I cannot imagine the story told in any other way. The white space helped me write the story. The line breaks helped Jake find his voice. 


B&T: Emily Dickinson is such an important figure in Jake’s healing process, and her poem “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” becomes a mantra he internalizes throughout the novel. Are there any lines of poetry that you find yourself repeating often? Any authors, poets or otherwise, that were a touchstone for you as a teenager?

John Schu: I loved poetry in elementary school. I memorized Chicken Soup With Rice by Maurice Sendak. I went through a Shel Silverstein phase during which I memorized most of the poems in A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Oh, how I loved that Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout would not take the garbage out. I read that poem aloud at least one hundred times to my imaginary students. Emily Dickinson replaced Shel as my favorite poet in middle school. Like Jake in Louder Than Hunger, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” played on repeat inside my head. But I TRULY fell in love with poetry when I discovered songwriters and poets Alanis Morrisette and Ani DiFranco. I saw so many pieces of myself in the lyrics of their songs. I still do. Thank you, Alanis and Ani, for helping me as a teenager.


B&T: Kella, one of Jake’s fellow residents in the Whispering Pines recovery facility, leaves Jake with a mixtape of 80s and 90s hits to listen through: Tina Turner, Alanis Morrisette, and Tracy Chapman to name a few. Was Kella’s taste in music inspired by your own? Does a Kella-curated playlist exist out there somewhere?

John Schu: I create a Spotify playlist almost every day. I listen to music when I walk, when I write, when I sleep. Music is as important and necessary in my life as children’s literature. I loved writing Kella’s scenes. Her taste in music was inspired by what I listened to during high school and college. And yes, you can listen to Kella’s playlist for Jake here. Thank you for asking!


B&T: During a group therapy session, Jake and his fellow residents get to talking about their favorite words, their “WOW” words. What are some of your favorite WOW words?

John Schu: W-O-W! I’m going to limit my list to eight WOW words (presented in alphabetical order): capacious, discombobulated, fastidious, jouissance,loquacious,penumbra,perseverate, wanderlust


B&T: Louder Than Hunger ends with such a touching and articulate author’s note, speaking to the more biographical aspects of Jake’s story and offering expertise to readers who may feel alone in their own struggles with mental health. Was it cathartic being able to tell Jake’s story to yourself, start to finish?

John Schu: I’m grateful for your super thoughtful questions! Thank you for “getting” Jake’s story. Cathartic is the perfect word to describe what it felt like to tell Jake’s story to myself from start to finish. Talking about the story with you is cathartic, too. As Susan Van Metre, the top-notch editor of Louder Than Hunger, said to Newbery Honor author Jasmine Warga, “John Schu turned his heart inside out to write this.”