Hello! Sasha here! I’ve been given the amazing opportunity to talk with the incredible Nic Stone, who loves the color orange, bacon, and adventures. Nic wrote one of my favorite books of 2017: Dear Martin. While reading this novel, my heart clenched, my eyes watered, and my mind was blown away. It’ll be in bookstores this Tuesday and you definitely don’t want to miss out! You may have heard of Nic before as she is on both Twitter and Instagram, where other readers haven’t been able to stop talking about Dear Martin. It’s good to know we’re not alone in the excitement! With that being said, let’s see today’s interview! And don’t forget to stick around to the end, where you can enter to win your own signed and personalized hardcover of Dear Martin!
Sasha: First off, Dear Martin is both enthralling and powerful. Could you give your readers a brief description of what your novel is about?
Nic: First off from me: HI, READERS! I LOVE YOU ALL! (And thank you for the compliment!)
Okay, so Dear Martin follows Justyce McAllister, a seventeen-year-old African American boy, who after a jarring experience with racial profiling begins a journal of letters *to* the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as Justyce tries to live out Dr. King’s teachings here in 2017. At its core, the book is an attempt to examine 21st Century American race relations through the eyes of a person like the ones we often see unjustly targeted by law-enforcement.
Sasha: Dr. King is Justyce's role model. Who are some people you look to for inspiration?
Nic: Dr. King is Justyce’s role model partially because he’s one of mine! The way he balanced truth with love and resistance with integrity is monumental to me. He was also really smart and used a lot of logic in his teachings and practices. I love that. I also really look up to Shonda Rhimes, Jacqueline Woodson, and Gwendolyn Brooks. All are amazingly accomplished African American women, and all achieved success without sacrificing their truths. That’s a powerful thing.
Sasha: Many people, including Justyce, are judged by what they look like on the outside rather than who they actually are. What advice would you give to readers who feel stereotyped by the world around them?
Nic: The first thing I would say is that it’s important to get to know who you are and what you stand for. Yes, people will look down on you and make assumptions about you because of how you look, but if you know you, you’ll know what’s true and what isn’t. There’s a lot of power in being able to say: “That’s not true about me, so I’m rejecting it.” It’s also vital to believe in your inherent value as a human being: if you exist, you’re valuable. There are things YOU can offer to this world that literally no one else can, and that only changes if you’re not here anymore. Are there people who will challenge this and treat you as though you’re valueless? Of course. But as long as you exist, those people are wrong. Don’t ever forget it.
Sasha: No matter what the discussion is, Sarah Jane is a character who isn't afraid to raise her voice to give her opinion. Where did you get the idea to create her character? Also, in what ways do you see yourself through SJ?
Nic: Sarah-Jane is… interesting. (And was tough to write!) She’s a shoutout to my husband (who is Jewish), but also to the Jewish contingent of the Civil Rights movement, but at her core, SJ is me. I made her white/Jewish because sadly we live in a world where it’s more acceptable for a white girl to speak up and be bold with her opinions than it would be for a black girl to do it. There’s a good chance that she would’ve been totally dismissed if she looked like me (and I say that from experience). People have an easier time listening to those they can identify with—which I hope will translate to white readers listening to what she has to say and taking it to heart.
Sasha: You wrote about many serious topics such as poverty, racism, and issues within the justice system. What was the most difficult topic to write about?
Nic: Definitely the racism. It’s such a baseless, ugly, and wholly unnecessary thing, racism is. Because I invoke Dr. King so much in the book, I had to do some pretty intense research on him and US History and the Civil Rights Movement, and I basically spent eight weeks swinging back and forth between sobbing hysterically and stomping around in a rage. The biggest issue with today’s version of racism is that so much of it goes unacknowledged because it’s not overt. People think if they don’t use the n-word or openly hate people of color, they can’t possibly be racist, and that’s unfortunately not the case. Racism is embedded in the way our society functions, and in order to dismantle it, people have to be willing to address that. If this book succeeds in starting a single conversation or getting a person who doesn’t believe they’re racist to do a deeper self-examination, I’ll have done my job.
Sasha: Ever since I finished Dear Martin, I have been paying more attention to the issues in the news and how people involved are being portrayed. As a teenager, sometimes I feel like there is not much I can do to help innocent people get the rights they deserve. What advice would you give to teens looking to make the world a more just place?
Nic: Your words are some of your most powerful weapons. Start a blog. Write an article for your school newspaper—or for THE newspaper. (Dr. King’s first recorded act of resistance was a letter he wrote to the editor of the Atlanta Constitution in 1946. He was 17! Thanks to the Internet, you can submit an op-ed piece to any number of online publications.) Or do what I did and write a book!
Also, if you see injustice happening, speak up (if it’s safe to). If people you know say problematic things in front of you, call them out with questions (“Why do you say that?” “What makes you so sure that’s accurate?” etc.). No, you won’t always be able to change a person’s perspective, but there’s a lot to be said for the peace of mind that comes with knowing you stood for your truth.
It’s also important/uplifting to connect with people who feel the same way you do but might be equally nervous about speaking out. Start a social justice club at school where you get together with other students and talk about what you see on the news. Go to the protests/marches in your city that match your personal values. Start with friends. I’m sure you’ll find you’re not the only one wanting to help bring about change.
Sasha: What are some other young adult novels that you would recommend to the readers who love your novel as much as I do?
Nic: Ooh book recommendation time! So a couple that come out this month: LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds and THE 57 BUS by Dashka Slater. Both feature an African American teen boy in difficult circumstances, and both examine the social constructs that led to those circumstances. And both are amazing. Also Angie Thomas’s THE HATE U GIVE, Kekla Magoon’s HOW IT WENT DOWN, Walter Dean Myers’s MONSTER and LOCKDOWN, Brian Alexander’s BLACK BOY WHITE SCHOOL, Angela Johnson’s THE FIRST PART LAST, and Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s ALL AMERICAN BOYS are worth a read.
Sasha: So what's next, Nic? Do you have any upcoming projects that you could tell us about.
Nic: I’d tell you, but then you’d have to delete this whole interview…
Nah, I’m just kidding. I’m actually editing my next book as we speak. It comes out next fall and is an exploration of… identity and relationships. I’ll leave it at that.
That’s it for today’s interview with Nic, but don’t leave just yet. We’re teaming up with Nic to give away a signed and personalized hardcover of Dear Martin, along with some bookmarks. Just click on the image below and enter to win a copy for your bookshelf or classroom. The contest ends on Tuesday, October 17th, and the winner must live in the United States. Good luck!