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Black Writers Matter: We speak to Angie Thomas

SMALL TOWN GIRL, BIG DREAMS: Angie Thomas

ANGIE THOMAS personifies the sweet, all-American southern belle. With her Mississippi accent and loveable personality, the successful novelist has a glowing aura that you can’t help but warm to.

It may then come as a surprise that her reason for writing The Hate U Give – the No. 1 New York Times best-selling book about a young black girl and based around the Black Lives Matter Movement – was because she needed to find a way to process the rage she was feeling.

She says: “What sparked my anger was the death of a young man in Oakland, California, whose name was Oscar Grant. He lost his life at the hands of the police and, after his death, there was a lot of unrest in Oakland."

“This was made even more difficult as more young black boys were killed; Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown – it was just never-ending.” The deaths of these young boys were made even more difficult when Thomas heard the discussions going on at the university she attended.

“I attended a white majority, upper class college in Mississippi. So I had to be two different people in two different worlds, but that became hard after Oscar, because I heard two different conversations about him,” she reveals.

“At home he was one of our own; we knew Oscar, and saw him everyday. But at school, the discussion was ‘well, maybe he deserved it. So instead of feeling frustrated on my own on campus, I decided to write and let go of feeling like I had to code switch by embracing who I am.”


The Hate U Give

Shedding her skin was the best thing for the literary talent, who ploughed through writing the young adults’ novel despite how hard it was. “The Hate U Give was initially a short story I wrote in college, but I had to stop for a little while because it became really difficult to write.” On a brief visit to London, where she was hosted by deputy mayor Matthew Ryder.

The small town author says she felt obligated to continue writing the book for her community.
“The weight of the book fell on my shoulders, and I said to myself that even if this doesn’t change anything, I need to write it for me and I hoped that by completing it I could give other kids some hope.”

Thomas’ love of writing began at a very early age. “I started telling stories when I was six years old. My mom would read bedtime stories and afterwards I would tell her my own versions,” says the young writer.

“So I’ve always loved telling stories, but when I was eight years old, my teacher noticed that I was scribbling notes between lessons and she asked me to read the story to the class – I thought I was in trouble.

“But she let me read it to them and the reactions from everyone hooked me to writing. From there, I continued down that path, and ended up studying creative writing at college.”

Being the only black girl on her creative writing course made it difficult for the best-seller to believe she could succeed in the literary world. “I didn’t think I could be an author because I never met authors who looked like me."


Angie Thomas with Deputy Mayor of London Matthew Ryder

“I’m from Mississippi and we have a rich literary history, but they’re all white and dead – I can’t connect with that. So I didn’t think that I could do it until college and I realised that this was something I could actually pursue and be successful at.”

And boy, has she succeeded. From winning a grant with We Need Diverse Books, to having the No. 1 book on Amazon in the UK – Thomas says she’s proud of the success she’s had thus far and hopes this inspires more black writers to share their talent and for publishers to take notice.

“For aspiring black writers, I would tell them to follow their own paths, write for themselves and their core audience and let everybody else catch on later,” she says. “Publishing still has a long way to go but I feel proud to know that my book with the black girl on the cover is on top of the New York Times best-seller list.”

In the meantime, the talented wordsmith serves as an inspiration to many, and is going full steam ahead with her future projects. The film rights have been purchased, and the script is currently in development,” reveals Thomas. “We’ve got George Tillman Jr. (Power, Luke Cage) on board and he has a really good resume.”

Alongside the upcoming film, Thomas has started on her second novel, which focuses on a young black girl who finds herself through hip-hop – a story which bears a striking resemblance to Thomas’ early days as a teen rapper.

“My second book is called My Ode To Hip-Hop – it’s about a 16-year-old female rapper, and I definitely want to address some things within that.”

Thomas often chooses to confront social issues in her writing, which resonates largely with today’s youth and their engagement in social activism – something that brands are beginning to take notice of and use to serve their own vendettas.

Thomas feels similarly about the controversial Pepsi advert, which seemingly used activism as a marketing tool.

“That commercial was so distasteful, and while I get that they were trying to show unity, they did it wrong”, states Thomas.

While some may support social movements for likes and retweets, Thomas credits those who maintain a strong social stance and work hard to fight it in whichever way they choose. “Whether it’s protesting or creating a piece of art, I admire those people who really do put in the work and I hope that continues.”

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