Angie Thomas | A Microphone for Today’s Youth

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Picture this: I’m on a long flight back to Alabama from California and I needed something to keep me entertained. So I pull up the movies on the in-flight app and see that The Hate U Give is an option. Yes! I missed it in the theater so this was perfect…...perfectly wrong. I was trying to silently sob on this plane full of strangers while trying to deal with the emotions of watching this movie on topics that hit so close to home these days.

So when I heard that my local Books-A-Million was hosting a talk and book signing with Angie Thomas, the New York Times bestselling author of The Hate U Give and her second novel On the Come Up, I knew I had to be there to see who was capable of evoking such emotions. Because I am NOT an emotional person.

Seated center stage, with locs, ripped jeans, Jordans, and a Hillman College hoodie, Angie is still one of us. Fame hasn’t taken her away from normal life just yet. She still resides in her hometown of Jackson, MS and brought her mom along for the drive up.

She tells us “If you don’t own anything else in this world, own your identity.”

I’m listening Angie.

In 2017, her debut novel The Hate U Give, tells the story of Starr Carter and how her life is changed after her friend, an unarmed black teen, is killed by a white police officer. The movie starred Amandla Stenberg as Starr.

Thomas says the inspiration for the book came from being in college and hearing about the shooting of Oscar Grant, in addition to Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown. Like Starr, Thomas was attending a predominately white private school during these events and was struggling with seeing the world differently than the people surrounding her. Being able to tell the other side of how people are feeling, particularly young people, in the aftermath of such tragic events, was important.

While people often call her a champion for young people, she humbly denies that and instead insists “I’m not their voice, I’m their microphone. Cause young people are already championing for themselves.”

And she’s right. The way young people of today organize and have a sense of self is amazing. Look at Black Lives Matter, March For Our Lives, and the Youth Climate Strike. I can definitely tell you that the things that today’s youth are worried about are not the same things I was at their age.

Her take on adults not completely supporting today’s youth activism? “The generation coming up is always challenged by the previous generation,” says Thomas. “The adults in your life can sometimes be wrong. And adults need to recognize that kids can think for themselves.”

Another important topic Thomas likes to touch on in her books is the idea of getting out of the hood versus staying and changing things. 

Like Bri in On the Come Up, Thomas was also an aspiring rapper and had hopes making it big to get out. Her words on staying vs leaving: “Whether you’re in the neighborhood or not, your community does not define your blackness.” I think this is one of the reasons she sets both books in the same neighborhood. While both characters have a shared experience of living in Garden Heights, their black experience is very different. “And no they don’t know each other, cause all black people don’t know each other,” she jokes. I really like her yall.

And yes, in case you were wondering, Angie is working on her third book! This book will be the final book set in the neighborhood of Garden Heights. Although it won’t be released until sometime in 2021, we can definitely look forward to On the Come Up becoming a Paramount movie where she will serve as producer. A writer from This Is Us is serving as the screenwriter.

And who would be her dream casting for Bri’s mom: Taraji P. Henson. Fingers crossed!

In addition to the movie and third novel, she is often asked the question “how do you write a book?” So in March 2020, she will release a creative writing workbook for teens to help them figure out the process. 

And lastly, she has a middle school fantasy novel coming out that is literal black girl magic. I can’t wait.

So how did this woman make me cry like a baby on a plane? She put her real emotional reactions to today’s struggles on paper. And I soaked it up. Cause I felt what she felt. And how a lot of other young people feel today. And while both her novels are left somewhat open-ended, she stresses that the endings are not the end for her characters. Her stories are the beginning of these young people’s lives. Much like the youth activists of today.