Spotlight Series: Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas is known for her novels that have quickly become masterpieces in the YA (Young Adult) genre. These coming-of-age stories are inspired by important issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement, racism and police brutality. Angie’s novels are set in the fictional neighbourhood of Garden Heights, and they educate and inspire readers.
The Hate U Give (2017) sees sixteen-year-old Starr move between two worlds, the poor neighbourhood where she lives and the fancy prep school she attends. But when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her friend at the hands of a police officer, the balance between these worlds is shattered.
On The Come Up (2019) follows Bri, a sixteen-year-old rapper who is hoping to follow in her father’s footsteps and make it as an underground hip-hop legend. This is a story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you.
Concrete Rose (2021) sees a return to Garden Heights, seventeen years before the events of The Hate U Give, as we follow the journey of Starr’s father. Maverick is a seventeen-year-old high school senior and member of the King Lords gang. This novel is a poignant exploration of Black boyhood and manhood. Concrete Rose is out now!
Biography and Motivation
Angie grew up and still resides in Jackson, a neighbourhood similar to Garden Heights, the setting for her books. She is a lover of music and a former teen rapper. Angie attended a predominantly white college, and her experiences are reflected in Starr’s own loss in identity code-switching between her predominantly white high school and her neighbourhood. She is an author of three books and is currently writing a fantasy novel where Black people are free.
After the shooting of Oscar Grant by a police officer, Angie poured her frustration and anger into a short story, which formed the basis of her debut novel The Hate U Give. While dealing with the grief over Oscar’s death, and hearing from people in her college that “he [Oscar] probably had deserved it, he was an ex-con,” Angie felt that she had two options: “burn down her entire campus or use her emotions in art.”
As someone who believes that books play a huge role in activism, Angie is pleased that her books have reached such a wide audience, including both fellow African Americans who are happy to finally see themselves represented, and even white supremacists who have emailed her saying that her book has changed their perspective!
In her view, this is partly due to YA’s universal appeal: “YA has a large adult readership, and that’s because that period of our lives is when we discovered who we wanted to be as adults.” Released in the same year as Black Panther, The Hate U Give was a record-breaking success which completely dispelled the publishing myth that Black stories don’t sell. It was also celebrated for setting a new standard by daring to display an up-close shot of a Black girl on the cover, a practice that publishers discourage on the racist assumption that it will make books less relatable to white audiences. That success, however, was somewhat dampened by the white-washed casting of the biracial Amandla Stenberg as Starr in the movie adaptation.
Indeed, Thomas writes firstly for Black kids. She laments that the publishing landscape has very few voices that she can relate to. In 2020 alone, there were more books with main characters as animals or trucks than Black kids. As a teenager, Thomas wasn’t a reader. Rather, she loved music:
“Rappers were only telling stories that I could see myself in … children's publishing failed me at that age range because I could not connect with Bella Swan in Twilight.”
When asked about her influences, Thomas lists J.K Rowling, Oprah, TLC, and of course Tupac. Having derived both book titles from his lyrics, Thomas confirms that she “wants to write the way that he rapped: he can make you think, cry, laugh, fight, and I want my writing to do all of that.”
January marked the release of her much-awaited sequel, Concrete Rose. Even though she had not planned on reopening the storyline, she was surprised to find out that many of her readers were more interested in the character of Maverick than the protagonist, his daughter Starr. Given the growing awareness of how systematic racism affects Black men, this is an essential book. Thomas puts it best:
“Black men and boys are not humanised but stereotyped. As an author, I try to show the people, rather than the stereotypes. While Maverick may be a gang member who sells drugs and so forth, he is also a young man who wants to be protected, help his mom out, and provide for his family.”