Interview with Angie Thomas by Clara Martin. Special to Twenty by Jenny.

Angie ThomasIn August of 2015, I met Angie when she had just signed with her agent. She was excited, hopeful, but also nervous. She didn’t know how a book influenced by Black Lives Matter would work for a YA story. Over a year later, The Hate U Give is going to be a movie (starring Amandla Stenberg as Starr), and Angie (and T.H.U.G.) are getting ready to take the world by storm. Angie was kind enough to answer some questions before embarking on her tour! Here is a review of The Hate U Give.

Where are you from? Tell me about the journey that led you to where you are now.

hate u giveI was born, raised, and still reside in Jackson, Mississippi. I’ve told stories for as long as I can remember—I used to write Mickey Mouse fanfiction when I was six. But I never thought that I could be an author until I was in college, studying creative writing. I actually wrote the short story that became The Hate U Givewhile I was in my senior year. It took me a few years after college, though, to decide to make it a novel. Even after I wrote it, I was afraid that the topic may not be appropriate for YA. So when a literary agency held a question and answer session on Twitter, I asked if the topic was appropriate. An agent not only responded and said yes, he asked to see my manuscript. A few months later, I signed with him, and a few months after that we were in a 13-publishing house auction.

When did you know you needed to write this book?

Oscar Grant

Oscar Grant

Like I said, I first wrote it as a short story during my senior year of college, back in 2010/2011 after the shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California. Like my main character, Starr, I was living in two different worlds—my neighborhood that most people called “the hood” and my upper class, mostly-white college. By being in these two different worlds, I heard two very different takes on the case. At my school, he was seen as 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 the story. I put it aside after graduation, but as more of these cases continued to happen, I found myself angry, afraid, and frustrated again. So I did the only thing I knew how to do–I wrote.

Black Lives Matter is…

An organization and a movement. I don’t think a lot of people realize there’s a difference between the two. (And for the record, I’m not affiliated with the organization). It’s also a statement. It is not saying that only black lives matter or that black lives matter more. All lives should matter, indeed, but we have a systemic problem in this country in which black lives don’t matter enough. Black lives matter, too.

Tell us a little bit about Starr. Why did you use her voice to tell the story? She starts out so unsure of herself, and it was amazing watching her grow and come into her own.

I know plenty of Starrs in my neighborhood; I was a bit of a Starr myself growing up. She’s in two different worlds where she has to be two different people, and she’s still trying to figure out which one is truly her. I think a lot of people can relate to that. Also, there is this stereotype that black women, especially young black women, are loud and harsh, and I wanted to crush that stereotype with this character.

There is a moment where Starr is in the car with Chris, and she says to him, “I don’t need you to agree…Just try to understand how I feel. Please?” And I felt like this was a powerful line that white people need to hear from black people.

That’s one of my favorite lines, actually. I think if more people understood why black people are so upset when another unarmed black person is killed, it would help bring about change. These cases always become political, but for so many of us they are personal. They need to become personal for all of us.

Another moment that I felt was really powerful is between Ms. Ofrah (Starr’s attorney) and Starr.
“Who said talking isn’t doing something? [Ms. Ofrah] says. “It’s more productive than silence. Remember what I told you about your voice?’
‘You said it’s my biggest weapon.’
‘And I mean that.’”

That’s another one of my favorites (Is it ok for an author to like something they wrote? Haha.) I hope that more people realize just how powerful their voices are, especially in our current political climate. Fighting is not always about violence; sometimes it’s about speaking out. Our voices can change things.

This story is fiction, and yet, it is a real look into casual racism, blatant racism, and both sides of the police equation (Starr’s uncle is also a policeman)—and this is just the tip of the iceberg. In many ways, Starr’s story is not fiction. It is the story of every black person who has been a witness to injustice, time and time again.

My ultimate hope is that it will help people realize that empathy is stronger than sympathy.

Angie Thomas will serve as a panelist on the “Rising Stars in Young Adult” discussion at the Mississippi Book Festival on Saturday, August 19 at 12 p.m. in the Galloway Sanctuary.

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