Two days. That's how much longer we have to wait for Angie Thomas' highly-anticipated debut novel, The Hate U Give. Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. More recently, she was the inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. She used that grant to turn a short story she wrote in college into The Hate U Give, a YA novel about race and police violence that's already being adapted into a film starring Hunger Games actress Amandla Sternberg. We're so excited to have Angie joining us today to talk about The Hate U Give. Let's get to it!
James: Just a few more days and the wait will be over! Your debut novel, The Hate U Give, is easily one of the most anticipated YA books of the year. In case there's anyone out there who's been living under a rock, can you tell me what it's about?
Angie: It’s about a sixteen-year-old girl, Starr, who navigates between the poor neighborhood she has grown up in and the upper-class suburban prep school she attends. Her life is up-ended when she is the sole witness to a police officer shooting her childhood best friend, Khalil, who turns out to have been unarmed during the confrontation – but may or may not have been a drug dealer. As Starr finds herself even more torn between the two different worlds she inhabits, she also has to find a way to speak her truth and, in the process, try to stay alive herself.
James: The Hate U Give is based off the very real struggles that prompted the Black Lives Matter movement. Are there any real-life figures of the movement who make an appearance in your book?
Angie: No real-life figure from the movement makes an appearance. However, there is a character who is loosely based on someone I personally know who is involved in the movement.
James: I hear a rumor there's a special Oreo reference in your book. Can you tell me what that's about?
Angie: Haha! Yes! Starr, our heroine, loves Golden Oreos, much to the dismay of one of my best friends and fellow author, Becky Albertalli, who wrote Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. So Starr kind of throws shade at regular Oreos which is my way of getting a dig in on Becky.
James: You were awarded the first ever Walter Dean Meyers Grant in 2015. In so many ways, Meyers was a true pioneer of the YA genre. Which of his books would you recommend most to someone who's new to his writing?
Angie: Monster. It’s one of those books that I will never forget.
James: Can you tell me a little bit about what it's like to be a debut author?
Angie: It’s a constant learning experience. Sometimes it’s hectic, but it’s exciting too. Just knowing that people have read my words (through ARCs) or will read my words is a dream come true. But it’s also been a lesson on time management and learning to say “no” every now and then.
James: Before you were an author, you dabbled in the rap game. Obviously, your title's an allusion to Tupac's Thug Life. Any other ways your self-proclaimed "unofficial degree in Hip Hop" came through in your novel?
Angie: Hip Hop definitely influenced this book as there are several song references throughout. From Tupac (of course) to Kendrick Lamar. For me personally, when I was younger Hip Hop provided the representation that I didn’t get from books—rappers sometimes told the stories that I could relate to. I will say though that my “unofficial degree in Hip Hop” will come in handy more for my second book.
James: I've just got to hear an Angie Thomas original. Rumor is, you've got bars. Anything you'd be willing to share with us?
Angie: Haha! Not at the moment but just wait for book two.
James: Do you have any advice for teens out there who are hoping to one day follow in your footsteps?
Angie: Always remember that it only takes one yes. There will be lots of no’s, unfortunately. That’s just part of the process. But again—one yes. That’s it. That’s all you need. So keep writing, keep creating, and keep dreaming.
James: I know I wasn't the only one who teared up back in October, when you published an excerpt from the first couple chapters of The Hate U Give on Entertainment Weekly and we got to read your heart-breaking genius for the first time. There was one line in particular that stood out to me: "It's dope to be black until it's hard to be black." Can you explain what you meant by that?
Angie: Black culture on the surface has always been perceived as cool. Yet the struggles and the marginalization of black people are often ignored or downplayed because they make people uncomfortable. It’s cool to embrace black culture, but for some it’s hard to confront the systemic racism that affects black people daily.
James: I know it's a big ask, but I can't help it... Any chance you could share another snippet with us today, or do we have to wait like everyone else? February 28th is just too far away! I know it's only two days, but... TOO FAR AWAY!
Angie: I can’t at the moment. But just hold tight! I promise February 28th is almost here!
That's it for today's interview with Angie. Be sure to pre-order The Hate U Give and check out her recent interview on NPR. You can also follow Angie on Twitter or reach out to her via her website. Whatever you do, be sure to come back to Beyond The Bio again next week, when we'll be talking to the amazing Alex London, author of Proxy.