A Letter to Librarians from Rufi Thorpe, Author of The Knockout Queen

I have always loved libraries. They were a place of enchantment for me as a child: the idea that I could have any book, as many books as I could carry! But I have never felt as urgently about libraries as I do now.


Rufi Thorpe
Photo © Nina Subin

Dear Librarians of America,

I have always loved libraries. They were a place of enchantment for me as a child: the idea that I could have any book, as many books as I could carry! But I have never felt as urgently about libraries as I do now.

I have two boys, and we go to our public library every week, and they love it just as much as I did. There is a fish tank in our local library, and we have to go say hi to the fish, one of whom my youngest son is sure is “up to no good.” (What could the fish be plotting? He will never answer me.) The librarian in the children’s section has gone above and beyond for us, ordering the newest book in the series my older son loves, hunting down the exact title he is looking for when it isn’t on the shelf. She is like an angel of books. But that is not why I feel as urgently about libraries as I do now.

I feel an urgency about libraries right now because they are a symbol of all that is good in our culture. The idea that we should invest in communal resources. The idea that all citizens should have access to knowledge, through both books and the internet. The idea that communities should have a place to organize. That anybody should be able to walk in and spend a few hours in a pleasant, clean place, reading or working or just staring off into space. That kids who might be told no in a bookstore, get told yes, yes, yes, anything you want, any book you want, here, try this one, there is no risk, only reward.

In a world where we cannot seem to agree that everyone with cancer should be able to seek treatment without financial ruin, where we cannot agree to make our children safer by enacting stricter gun laws, where we cannot agree even on the basic terms of civility, there is still the library. It is the physical manifestation of everything I believe in, of everything I am ready to fight for about humanity.

History is long, and I pray the present moment is short, but I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing the most beautiful work there is.

Rufi Thorpe

PS: I think that this letter was supposed to be about my newest novel, which is coming out in April, and which is about a boy named Michael, who has to move in with his aunt after his mother is sent to prison, and a girl named Bunny, who is tall, tall, tall, with the abs of a ninja turtle and the face of a boy angel. By the time they are seniors in high school Bunny is six foot three and two hundred pounds, so big, too big, big enough that she accidentally breaks their whole world apart. The Knockout Queen is a book about the unruliness of the body, about female violence, about trying to be a good person and refusing to believe you’re a bad person. But most of all, it's a book about love. And I would be so honored if you would read it and consider carrying it.

The Knockout Queen is a dazzling and darkly comic novel of love, violence, and friendship in the California suburbs. With storytelling as intoxicating as it is intelligent, Rufi Thorpe has created a tragic and unflinching portrait of identity, a fascinating examination of our struggles to exist in our bodies, and an excruciatingly beautiful story of two humans aching for connection.

The Knockout Queen is the best book I've read in months! Its one-of-a-kind narrator is funny, vulnerable, brilliant, and brimming with longing, and the story he tells distills the pain and beauty of a life-changing friendship like nothing else I've read before. This book's got guts and heart, and wisdom for days, and I could not put it down. Rufi Thorpe is one of the most exciting novelists working today. This novel is truly exceptional. I loved it.” —Edan Lepucki, bestselling author of California and Woman No. 17

"Brilliantly constructed and beautifully told, threaded with heartbreak, honesty and hope, The Knockout Queen is a sublime coming of age story and Rufi Thorpe is a national treasure." —Cynthia Sweeney, bestselling author of The Nest

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