BookBrunch | Hot new American novelist Angie Thomas, author of bestseller The Hate U Give, on race, writing and resistance

Once in a while, a book comes along that totally blows your mind. The Hate U Give is one of those books and everyone should read it right now. Even better, the author Angie Thomas, is a total sweetheart, absolutely bursting with passion. Here’s our chat – and you should totally check out the full article on BookBrunch – but you should also buy the book.

Angie Thomas has shot to literary stardom in recent months, as her debut novel The Hate U Give, skyrockets to the top of the NYT bestseller charts. Set to be published in 18 territories and counting – and already out here through Walker Books – the YA novel follows 16-year-old Starr, who lives between the poor Mississippi neighbourhood where she was born and a posh high school in the suburbs. When she becomes the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, she comes face to face with police brutality and systemic racism

After the intensity of the book, Thomas herself is a slight surprise: a generous smile, regular laughter, and a soft Mississippi accent. Her passion and conviction shine through, however, and she has much to say on publishing, on the importance of books, and on America itself.

The struggle to write

Though Thomas has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, it took her a long time to believe that being an author was something she could do. “For one, I never saw or met any authors who looked like me. Mississippi has a rich literary history, but most of them are either white or dead and I was neither! So it felt like it was something that I, as a black girl in a poor neighbourhood in Mississippi, just couldn’t do.”

At eight years old, Thomas read stories in front of the class at a teacher’s request, and the positive reactions from her classmates stayed with her for years. But it wasn’t until she decided to study Creative Writing at Belhaven University, 10 minutes from her home, that she acknowledged her ambition.

It was during her senior year at Belhaven that she wrote the short story that would later become The Hate U Give. The catalyst was the shooting of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old unarmed black man who was killed by a police officer in Oakland, California. “Like my main character, Starr, I lived in two different worlds: my black, poor neighbourhood and then my mostly white, private, upper-class school. Being in conservative Mississippi, I heard two different conversations about Oscar. At home, he was one of our own. I knew Oscars, I saw them every single day. They had maybe records, but they were trying to get their lives right. At school, it was, ‘Maybe he deserved it’, ‘Maybe they were justified’, or, ‘Why are people so upset, he was an ex-con.'”

Hearing this dehumanising narrative made Thomas angry, hurt and frustrated. “I’d already experienced so many small things at college personally – from classmates saying that my neighbourhood was where all the criminals lived, to being the only black girl at the Christmas party and getting the gag gift of the drug book and the water gun, and a white classmate making a joke about it – that when the conversations about Oscar came about, it hit the breaking point. Instead of forming my own riot on campus, I decided to write. So I wrote a short story with a mission to not only show the humanity in a young man like Oscar, but to show the good and the love in a community like mine.” [READ MORE]