Angie Thomas‘ highly-anticipated, debut novel, The Hate U Give will be released the 28th of February. There’s already a movie deal in the works with Amandla Stenberg as the lead and we’re so excited for the world to get their hands on this story! In Thomas’ novel, Starr is a girl navigating two worlds. From her predominately white school to the neighborhood her family lives in, she’s trying to figure out where she belongs. After Starr witnesses the death of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer, she must decide how to stand up for the truth- especially as the sole witness.
Angie was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the novel and her process. Take a look:
Q: On the back of your novel, it says, “Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement”. For a lot of people, that’s an inflammatory phrase, but mostly because they haven’t researched it. What would you say to readers who might not read your book because of that?
A: I would ask them to read it with an open mind and heart. I would also let them know that it is not an anti-cop book. In fact, Starr’s uncle, a prominent character, is a cop – an excellent one at that. When we say “Black Lives Matter” we are not saying that black lives only matter. All lives should matter, but we have a systemic problem in this country in which black lives do not matter enough. So black lives matter, too. I hope that my book shows why we say that.
Q: People struggle to write their first book and get it done. Were you struggling to write the book or was it a quick process? If you struggled, what influenced or pushed you to finally write the book?
A: It surprisingly wasn’t a struggle once I started on it. I had another project that I spent years querying and revising. But some of the best advice I ever received was that the next book may be THE book, so don’t invest all of your energy into only one book getting you in the door. Once I set that first manuscript aside and worked on The Hate U Give, things flowed pretty quickly. I felt so much anger, frustration, hurt, and sadness as cases of unarmed black people who lost their lives made headlines, and writing the book was cathartic.
Q: If you could choose one thing that you want people to take away from The Hate U Give, what would it be?
A: That empathy is more powerful than sympathy. The issues that are presented in the book are so often seen as political, but for many of us they are personal. I hope that the book makes them personal for more people because then can true change happen.
Q: What’s your writing process like? Are there certain steps you take rather than others?
A: I always write a query letter first before I write the book. It sort of sets a map for me to follow. I used to try to outline every single chapter but I always strayed away from my outline, so I stopped doing it. But as long as I have characters and a query letter, I’m good to go.
Q: When did the complete story of Starr’s experience come together for you? Which parts of the story did you come up with first?
A: I first wrote it as a short story during my senior year of college back in 2010/2011. This was after the shooting death of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man who was killed by police in Oakland, CA. I was a lot like Starr, living in a community known as “the hood” while attending a mostly-white, upper class school. In 2014/2015, I decided to write it as a novel. I always knew that it would be about a girl who witnessed the shooting death of her friend by a cop, and I always knew that she would be living in two different worlds. However, it wasn’t until I started writing it that all of the people in Starr’s world started to become fully realized.
Q: Were you ever doubtful that this story wouldn’t get told? Why or why not?
A: I was extremely doubtful—so much so that I was afraid to send it to literary agents. I knew the topic was timely but it is also controversial and sensitive. A literary agency held a question and answer session on Twitter, and I asked if the topic was appropriate. An agent responded and not only said that it was, but he asked me to query him. A few months later, I signed with him. That’s when the doubt began to fade away.
Q: What do you think we need to do to make sure more diverse books get chosen and published?
A: I think we need more diverse authors, for starters. This is not to say that writers cannot write outside of their background, but there is something about reading a story from a person who shares the marginalization as the character they’re writing—the authenticity is on an even higher level. I think that the more people read and buy the diverse books that are already out there, the more publishing will see to it that diverse books are acquired. So support, support, support.
Q: Any advice for anyone trying to write, but not being able to come up with an idea?
A: Write the story you’re afraid to write. Sometimes we have that one idea in the back of our heads and we tell ourselves that it’s too “something”— too heavy, too sad, too difficult. But sometimes it can be just right. And if you absolutely can’t come up with an idea, pay closer attention to the world around you. There are stories waiting to be told.
Thanks so much to Angie Thomas for her answers and don’t forget to pick up The Hate U Give on February 28th! Check out my review here.
Featured image courtesy of Entertainment Weekly