In our Fandom Love Letters series, EnVi asks passionate creatives to write a letter to other artists, musicians, and writers they admire. For this installment, EnVi spoke with Zoulfa Katouh, author of As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow.

In her letter to the K-pop group BTS, author Zoulfa Katouh wrote, “It’s a magical thing when you come across people who would change certain aspects of your life for the better.” 

Ever since that fateful “random October morning,” the writer has become a committed fan of BTS. (And if her book, the award-winning young adult novel As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow, was ever made into a movie, “It would be a dream for them to make a future song for me,” Katouh shared during our Zoom chat.) 

Although she currently lives in Switzerland, Katouh has Syrian roots and grew up in Canada. A multilingualist, she speaks Arabic, English, and German but also wants to learn French and Korean. The seven men of BTS seem worlds away from the Syrian-Canadian author; however, both are deeply inspired by the same simple message — love yourself. To conclude her 2022 personal essay titled “Speaking Myself,” Katouh emphasized, “And so, I sit by my desk, writing my love for Syria and my history through stories that one day, I hope, become folklore. Because from now until forever, I am speaking myself.” 

Almost a year before we jumped on a video call together, Katouh was in New York to see Suga, one of BTS’ main rappers, on his U.S. “SUGA AGUST D” tour. But now a year later, we focused on her letter to BTS, which we asked her to write ahead of our conversation. For the first edition of the revamped Fandom Love Letters series, EnVi chatted with Zoulfa Katouh about her “BTS origin story,” writing her letter, and her special BTS-related memories.

Graphics courtesy of Radiya.

*Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

EnVi Media: Please introduce yourself to our readers and add something that not many people realize about you! 

Zoulfa Katouh: Hi, everyone! My name is Zoulfa Katouh, and I’m the author of As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow. I am Canadian, but I live in Switzerland […] I have a master’s in drug sciences, and a bachelors in pharmacy. 

And I don’t know, I just recently turned 30. So I feel like this is a new beginning of life, you know? I don’t know if you’ve ever read Anne of Green Gables. But she has this thing […] every time a new beginning happens, she says it’s a new bend in the road. I feel like being 30 is a new bend in the road. 

Something people don’t really know is that I recently started [doing] Pilates. And that is very challenging because everybody in the class knows what they’re doing, and I’m trying to mimic the people around them.

EnVi Media: What was it like writing this letter to BTS? Was it challenging or did the words flow pretty naturally? 

Zoulfa Katouh: I’ve loved musicians before, obviously […] but for some reason with [BTS], you feel like there’s more than the music. It’s just who they are […] I think a friend told me about this […] but she said that one of the reasons why BTS and ARMY mesh so well together is because they don’t down love towards their fans, but we’re both at the same level. It’s parallel. 

That’s why the words did float easily at first; I had to find them. But once I started writing, it just came out — everything I would have said to them if we were having coffee or something like that. I would feel like we would have these very engaging conversations regarding deep issues that are going on with the world, maybe philosophical or just something personal. You would feel like they would understand it. 

I feel like at the core of it, POC [people of color] go through the same struggles. I would understand the struggles that [BTS] went through in the music industry because I go through it in the publishing industry, regardless of our cultural differences. Deep down, you feel like you’re the same […] So it was all those things that you feel you identify with made it easy to write the letter. 

EnVi Media: Is there a member of particular that you want to have that kind of one-on-one conversation with?

Zoulfa Katouh: People ask you who your BTS bias is, and I always say I’m OT7 — I can’t choose one. Because, for me, I rotate. I love them all equally, but depending on the season and what album someone’s putting out, I will be really into streaming and listening and thinking about them. I would say all of them, because all of them have something that I would love to talk to them about. I can’t choose; this is very difficult. You can’t make me choose! *laughs*

EnVi Media: I really resonated with this part of your letter: “You’ve heard this time and time again but thank you for the art you give us. For making us confront emotions and thoughts within ourselves we couldn’t put into words.” Were you thinking of any particular BTS song or experience when you wrote this sentence? 

Zoulfa Katouh: I think it was “Black Swan” that made me think of that, because that song is deep on so many levels. I don’t think I’ve ever heard lyrics like that before. And the theme of the song itself, I personally have not heard it in another song. And so that, for me, really resonated. The whole, “you die twice:” you die once when your art becomes something that you can’t relate to, and then you die again in real life. I was also feeling that sometimes with my writing, where I just don’t feel that connection to my writing anymore. And you have to give yourself space and a break and love yourself, basically, in order to start loving your art again. So, for me, “Black Swan” […] just jarred me, in a way.

EnVi Media: Do you remember how you got into BTS? Or what is your “BTS origin story?”

Zoulfa Katouh: It was October 11. No actually sorry, October 10 because it was on my mom’s birthday. I was doing online classes back then; I was doing my masters. Obviously it was during COVID; it was 2020. And so I was at home [and] I woke up at nine for a lecture. My feed on Twitter was just BTS […] I remember [Jung Kook] because In the Soop came out, and one of my mutual’s on Twitter was just retweeting Jungkook GIFs, like all the time. I was like, “Who is this guy?” I just didn’t really look into it. 

But then when I opened my Spotify, [and] everyone on my Spotify was listening to their setlist. And I was like, “What is happening? Okay, fine. I will open one song; I will listen to it.” It was very random. I don’t know if I pressed shuffle or if I pressed on what one of the people is listening to — I really don’t remember. But whatever it was, it was “We are Bulletproof: the Eternal.” And I don’t speak Korean, so I didn’t really understand what they were saying. But there were some English lyrics in between. When they’re saying, “We are not seven with you.” I’m like, “Why am I crying? Like, why is this so emotional?” So from that, I just had to know their names. 

The very first video I ever watched was the James Corden car karaoke, and I think I watched it like four or five, six times. It’s actually a really good video as an introduction to them because each [BTS member] has their own personality. They’re also sitting in a way where you can label them; they’re not running around [like] when it’s the BTS Run [videos]. 

From that, I just never looked back. And honestly, I don’t know who I was before them…

EnVi Media: How has being an ARMY and being a fan of BTS’ music influenced your writing? 

Zoulfa Katouh: I always say that art inspires art. And so with [BTS], I would find myself writing certain scenes to certain songs. Maybe the lyrics have nothing to do with it, but the melody itself sometimes takes you where you need to be in that space of writing. 

I listened to “Blue and Grey” a lot when I was writing certain scenes in Lemon Trees. “Blue and Grey” is supposedly a sad song, but it also gives me hope at the same time. I love that song so, so much. I was writing [to] it in certain scenes, and then I […] did write that Salama looks at the “Blue and Grey,” kind of like referencing the song.

And every single one of my characters has a bias, obviously. So I would probably also listen to more from that bias if they have solo songs, to kind of influence how to write this character […] But for my second book, or my second book that’s contracted, [the main character’s] bias is Yoongi [Suga] — actually I dedicate the book to Yoongi — because she’s going through a very, very rough time. Like my girl is going through it. It’s not a happy book. For her, Yoongi brings her a lot of comfort.

EnVi Media: For EnVi readers/ARMY who haven’t read As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow, how would you describe it using BTS songs? 

Zoulfa Katouh: I would say “Blue and Grey” is one of them. I would also say “Film out.” I can’t say why for people who haven’t read it. Please don’t look up the lyrics. *laughs* Just read the book […] then you will find out. 

*thinks for a moment* [And] “Louder than bombs.”

[We get excited about their Japanese albums, like Map of the Soul : 7 ~ The Journey ~, and tracks like “Your eyes tell.”]

EnVi Media: You mentioned RM and BTS in As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow. Why do you think RM especially should read your book? What do you think he — as the resident bookworm in BTS — would resonate with the most?

Zoulfa Katouh: I think he would. Because he’s a plant dad. And Salama [the main character of Lemon Trees] is a pharmacist who really cares about flowers and medicinal herbs and stuff like that. I think [RM] would really vibe with that. 

And then on a deeper level, I feel like the book talks about world issues that he has shown interest in. [He’s been] very vocal about — all of them — they’re very vocal about what’s going on in the world. Like when they donated $1 million to the Black Lives Matter movement. It was amazing. They’re active within the world, not even within their community, but within the world itself. I remember […] I think it was Hobi [j-hope] and Jimin who donated to the people who were affected by the earthquakes that happened in Syria and Turkey. They have so much to give. 

Because RM shows us parts of his culture and his identity, I would like to show him parts of my culture and identity in this book [As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow]. He always speaks about diversity and loving yourself, and he tells us to love ourselves — all of them do. I feel like he would also see that represented in the book, that Salama does love herself. And I love myself enough to write a book that doesn’t fit within a stereotypical box. I feel like all of them would resonate with the book.

EnVi Media: What ARMY-related (or BTS-related) memories are particularly special to you? Why? 

Zoulfa Katouh: I will have to say when I went to Yoongi’s concert last year in Newark, because Jimin was there. I saw Jimin (I saw a blob)…But he was there; I felt his presence within the building. I feel Jimin in this Chili’s tonight. *laughs*

I felt so much closer to them. Like, “Oh my God, they’re real.” They’re not just on YouTube. So I’m holding out until the next big memory, which is to see them all together on stage… 

*Note: Zoulfa gives all the credit to fellow author and ARMY Robin Wasely, as Robin took Zoulfa with her to the Agust D concert.

EnVi Media: I know they work very hard but also seeing how hard the rest really inspires me sometimes.

Zoulfa Katouh: I really, really agree…I love their work ethic. You feel how genuine they are. Because people are not stupid. People feel if a certain artist or whoever is not very genuine in their work and [if] they’re just using the fans. People feel that; we’re not dumb. With [BTS], it just feels so real and so genuine. And that’s why they have millions and millions of fans because of how genuine they are, how down to earth they are.

EnVi Media: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Zoulfa Katouh: *jokingly* Yeah, everybody who reads this, please don’t buy tickets to [BTS’] new concert until I get them. And then you can buy those tickets. 🙂

EnVi Media: I do hope that you get to see BTS when they come back as a group, and thank you again for chatting with me.

Zoulfa Katouh: This has been so much fun like this is the funnest interview I’ve done in a while.

Keep up with Zoulfa Katouh and her books on Instagram and her website. Find more details about As Long As the Lemon Trees Grow here

Want more interviews with your favorite authors? Check out EnVi’s author spotlight on June Hur and her novel, A Crane Among Wolves, here!