October 2, 2017 - Comments Off on Interview with author Angie Thomas
At the start of Black History Month, we’re delighted to publish this fantastic interview with Angie Thomas, author of the incredible YA bestseller The Hate U Give, which is also set to hit the big screen in the near future.
The Hate U Give is a powerful wake-up call of a novel about racism, the Black Lives Matter movement, social inequality and not giving up, told through the eyes of unforgettable sixteen-year-old Starr. Not only is this a breathtakingly smart and important book, and not only is Angie an amazing new voice in YA fiction, but this interview was conducted by talented young book reviewer, Josh. Huge thanks to Josh for making this happen, and to Angie.
Could you describe the book in the length of a tweet?
A sixteen-year-old girl is the sole witness when her childhood best friend is killed by a cop.
Where did the idea come from?
I first wrote The Hate U Give as a short story when I was in college, as a reaction to the shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California. Like Starr, I lived in two different worlds – my poor, black, neighbourhood and my upper-class, mostly white college. Being in these two different worlds, I heard two very different conversations about Oscar. At my school, he was a thug who deserved what he got, but in my community he was one our own. My anger, fear, and frustration led me to write. I put the short story aside after graduation, but as more of these cases continued to happen, I found myself angry, afraid, and frustrated again. So I decided to write the book that became The Hate U Give.
What was it about the Black Lives Matter movement that inspired you in particular?
The Black Lives Matter movement finally gave a voice to what so many of us had been saying in the black community for so long. Police brutality is not new – social media is new, cameras on phones are new, and these two things have allowed the world to see what we’ve been saying for decades. I just hope that my book helps more people understand why we say Black Lives Matter.
One of the key events in the book is the fatal shooting of Starr’s unarmed friend Khalil by a police officer, which happens really early on in the book. What made you want to centre the plot around this?
I wanted to make this the focus of the plot because for so many of us, this has become an active, daily conversation. I wanted to write it for the teens in my community who saw themselves in Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and so many others, but didn’t know how to process their feelings. I wanted to give those kids a mirror and other people a window into what they are dealing with.
Did you write any parts of your own life into this book?
Yes. Like Starr, I grew up in a neighbourhood that’s known for all of the wrong reasons. I never witnessed the shooting dead of a friend, but I’ve witnessed shootings and I’ve lost childhood friends to gun violence. I also found myself straddling two worlds in college, and every day I had to figure out who I was, where I was.
Would you like your book to form part of a conversation about racism, and what would that mean for you if it was?
I hope that my book does help foster some of these conversations, and I hope it helps readers, teens in particular, realise that their voices matter. We must confront racism head-on. It exists, it is prevalent, and it continues to divide us. If The Hate U Give helps tackle it in any way, I will consider it an honor.
The movie rights for your book were sold to Fox 2000 before it was even published, and Amandla Stenberg is set to star. What does this mean for you? Are you excited?
I’m extremely excited about the movie and hope to have more news on it soon! Knowing that my story will reach more people through the film means everything to me.
You were also the first recipient of the Walter Dean Myers Grant from We Need Diverse Books in 2015, a grant awarded to unpublished diverse writers looking to write children’s or YA books. How did it feel to be told you were receiving the grant? Do you believe that the grant is necessary and why?
I was completely shocked that I won the grant and considered it a huge honour – I still do. Not only did the grant help me financially, but it gave me an added boost in the eyes of publishers. The grant is definitely necessary. It puts a spotlight on writers who may otherwise be overlooked. The work that We Need Diverse Books is doing as a whole is necessary, not just for writers but for readers as well.
What’s next for you? Are you planning to write more books?
I’m currently working on my second novel. It’s not a sequel or a spin off of The Hate U Give, but it is set in the same neighbourhood. I call it my ode to hip hop.
And finally, are there any tips you would give to aspiring writers?
Although you will get a lot of rejections along the way, remember that it only takes one ‘yes’ to change everything. And above all, always write for yourself first and foremost.