Hena Khan headshot and the cover of The Door is Open

Hena Khan Breaks Down the Unique Collaborative Process and Inspiration Behind ‘The Door Is Open’

Hena Khan, the award-winning and bestselling author of middle-grade works like Amina’s Song, has put together the perfect anthology to highlight the Desi community and celebrate AAPI Heritage Month with The Door Is Open.

Recommended Videos

The Door Is Open is an ambitious anthology that features 11 interconnected stories from 11 prominent Desi authors, including Reem Faruqi, Rajani LaRocca, Simran Jeet Singh, and Aisha Saeed. Khan came up with the idea for the anthology series, gathered all the authors, edited the book, and contributed one of the stories, “Together At The Center.” It’s far from the only impressive project under Khan’s belt. As a child, she noticed a lack of books that reflected her experience as a Pakistani American Muslim. As an author of multiple children’s picture books and middle-grade books, she has sought to use her works to celebrate diverse voices and frequently features Pakistani American and Muslim characters.

The Door Is Open takes place in the fictional community of Maple Grove, New Jersey, and follows the stories of a group of Desi children and families connected through the Maple Grove Community Center. From weddings to the festival of Navratri to Ameen celebrations, the Community Center is a wonderful place where the children can celebrate their culture, pursue their passions, and find a sense of community. When other residents begin calling for the Community Center to be shut down, several children band together, finding their voices as they attempt to save the Center.

The Mary Sue recently spoke with Khan via email about The Door Is Open and the process and inspiration behind the powerful work.

How The Door Is Open came to be

Khan took charge over The Door Is Open, as she came up with her “dream team” of authors whose work she admired and “who could all speak to growing up in America as South Asians or desi Americans.” Her main concern was being representative and diverse. She explained, “I wanted to be as widely representative as possible and include people of different faith, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds while highlighting our shared heritage. I knew many of the writers personally, but a few I had never met in person or spoken to before. Mitali Perkins is a South Asian writer icon, and I reached out to her first about the idea. She was super supportive and enthusiastic about it, and once I had her on board, I talked to the rest of the authors, who were thankfully eager to join us. I’m so grateful to each of them!”

The Door Is Open is unique in that all 11 stories from separate authors are connected by setting, the overarching plot, and shared characters. In order to maintain the connectivity, Khan and her fellow authors started the process with “a group brainstorming session,” where they picked the location of the book and the themes and character names for their individual stories. Then, it was largely a matter of circling back to the drafts to connect the stories and form the overarching story.

It may sound complicated, but Khan assures us the process was relatively smooth. She explained, “We shared early drafts with each other and wove different characters into our stories—making sure that their personalities and dialogue felt consistent. And then we went back and wove in a larger, overarching story about the community center itself! It was a very collaborative process, but everyone was so receptive to the concept and excited by it, which is why I believe it turned out so beautifully.”

What Hena Khan wants readers to take away from The Door Is Open

One of the most interesting aspects of The Door Is Open is that the stories reflect the personal and unique experiences of each of its authors, including Khan. Khan revealed that her story, “Together At The Center,” was actually based on her own children’s experiences “with a very gentle and patient Arabic tutor and working hard toward having an Ameen celebration of their own.” Her story featured a beautiful moment where both Desi individuals and those outside the community came together to recognize a young girl’s Ameen celebration. It is the second-to-last story in The Door Is Open, right before the final story, “The Map of Home,” in which racist residents post hateful fliers all over the Community Center.

Khan acknowledged that the placement of the stories was strategic, stating, “I wanted a gradual build of the overarching story about the community center and wanted to introduce different background voices who were calling for the type of future they envisioned. And while we see some tension gradually building throughout the stories, it does culminate in the final story, as we often see in life. Things simmer for a bit before coming to a boil!”

Ultimately, she wants The Door Is Open to make middle-grade readers feel welcomed by their community. She explained, “I hope readers feel welcomed by the warmth of our community and its power, which is a wonderful feature of being part of the South Asian diaspora. And I hope they will appreciate that while desi Americans are very diverse in many ways, we have a shared history and culture that unifies us and transcends our differences, not to mention our amazing food and parties! My hope is that every reader, of every background, will find characters and storylines that they connect with deeply and find them relatable, inspiring, humorous, and comforting.”

While Khan often writes her own books, she confirmed that she enjoyed being able to wear her “editorial hat” for The Door Is Open and help shape multiple stories. She had editing experience from her former career as a communications specialist and confirmed it’s something she’d also “love to do as a mentor and critique partner.” Explaining the joy-filled experience of crafting The Door Is Open, she stated, “In this case, not only did I get to work with authors who were or became friends, but we all had a shared vision and passion for the project that I believe shines through the finished product. It was truly an honor to put this together, and it’s something I’m very proud to add to the literature available for kids today.”

Regarding whether she’d wish to pursue similar projects to The Door Is Open to bring further representation to children’s literature, she declared, “I would love to!”

(featured image: Havar Espedal / Hatchette Book Group)


The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article Conservative Book Banners Are Redacting Entire Textbook Chapters in Texas Schools
A book with redacted sections
Read Article So What Happened With the Ending of ‘Iron Flame’?
Cover art for Rebecca Yarrow's "Iron Flame"
Read Article How Much of ‘Bridgerton’s Romantic Drama Is Historically Accurate?
Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington and Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton in Bridgerton season 3
Read Article Julia Quinn’s Many ‘Bridgerton’ Books Offer So Much More Regency Romance
The covers for Bridgerton books with Netflix tie-in covers, including The Duke & I, The Viscount Who Loved Me, and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton
Read Article The 19 Best Standalone Fantasy Novels if You’re Looking For a Quick Adventure
Black mermaid looking up at the surface and swimming in front of whales. One of the covers for "The Deep." Image: Simon & Schuster
Related Content
Read Article Conservative Book Banners Are Redacting Entire Textbook Chapters in Texas Schools
A book with redacted sections
Read Article So What Happened With the Ending of ‘Iron Flame’?
Cover art for Rebecca Yarrow's "Iron Flame"
Read Article How Much of ‘Bridgerton’s Romantic Drama Is Historically Accurate?
Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington and Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton in Bridgerton season 3
Read Article Julia Quinn’s Many ‘Bridgerton’ Books Offer So Much More Regency Romance
The covers for Bridgerton books with Netflix tie-in covers, including The Duke & I, The Viscount Who Loved Me, and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton
Read Article The 19 Best Standalone Fantasy Novels if You’re Looking For a Quick Adventure
Black mermaid looking up at the surface and swimming in front of whales. One of the covers for "The Deep." Image: Simon & Schuster
Author
Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.