Interview with Angie Thomas

Posted by Goodreads on December 5, 2017
Angie Thomas has scored a double win in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards, scooping Best Debut Goodreads Author and Best Young Adult Fiction for her electrifying novel, The Hate U Give.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Thomas' critically acclaimed bestseller tells the story of 16-year-old Starr Carter, a black high school student, who witnesses the fatal police shooting of her unarmed childhood friend, Khalil.

The novel has been praised for its heart-rending, powerful, and honest depiction of police violence, racial inequality, and activism in contemporary America as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl. It has sold more than 500,000 copies and is being taught in schools across America. On Goodreads, the book has a 4.6-star rating and more than 63,000 reviews. Meanwhile a film adaptation starring Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg and hip-hop artist Common is in production.

We caught up with Thomas while the Choice Awards voting was still under way. She told Goodreads contributor Catherine Elsworth about her amazing year, the humbling and most affecting moments (including a comment from J.K. Rowling that, Thomas says, "made my life"), why she wants her writing to be "as unfiltered and as raw as a rapper," and the new novel she's working on.

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Goodreads: Congratulations on being a double nominee for the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards. What has it meant to you to have so much support from Goodreads readers, the high ratings, and positive reviews?

Angie Thomas: It's been amazing. I will be honest: I don't read the reviews, as it feels like I'm invading the readers' privacy. I really do think it's important that readers have a safe space to say what they feel like saying about a book without worrying how the author will take it. Also, I don't want it to mess with me mentally as I'm writing this second book.

But I've been told there are great reviews on there, and that is amazing to me. That's an honor to me to even know that that many people connect with the book and enjoy the book.

GR: There's been such a phenomenal response to your book. What has the last year been like for you? Did you ever imagine that something you wrote would make such an impression?

AT: I did not. When you're sitting there writing it by yourself and not sure even if an agent will want it—it blows my mind. I could never have imagined it. This past year has been incredible, not just the success of the book and it being on the New York Times bestseller list and the nominations and all that sort of thing, but seeing how it has successfully found its readership and how it has successfully reached the kids I wanted it to reach. That's the best part absolutely: hearing the stories of how it has helped change people's perspective, or even how it has changed their lives, or how it's given some young readers the first mirror of themselves that they've seen in a book. I'm honestly honored to know that something I did has affected so many people. This year has been very humbling in that sense. Sometimes I think I'm going to wake up and this is like the most detailed, vivid dream ever.

GR: When you were writing the book, were you aware that you might be treading new ground in YA fiction, approaching issues in a way that hadn't been done before?

AT: Well, I wasn't and I was. As far as I knew, I hadn't read a lot of things that were like it. There were books that touched on the same topics, like All American Boys and How It Went Down, but I hadn't seen a book about it from a girl's perspective, and I thought OK, let's try this. But I didn't really know. I've had so many people say to me, "I've never read anything like this," and I'm like, "Wow." I guess I didn't realize because when you're writing, you're always thinking I may end up finding out about a book that nobody ever knew about, and all of a sudden when my book comes out, they're going to be like, "You copied my book!" I had no idea going into this that it would be something so different for YA. I'm glad that it is, and I hope we see more of it. I hope we see more diverse voices in YA and more diverse narratives in YA.

GR: I've read that you feel strongly that YA authors should show life as it is, show the real world.

AT: Absolutely. I think one of the biggest things that teenagers want from us is the truth. They don't want us to hold back. The one way to have a teenager no longer trust you is to lie to them or try to mislead them or even try to protect them. And we do it a lot. We hold back, and we try not to expose them to things because we don't want them to grow up too soon. But the unfortunate truth of our society now is they're being forced to grow up soon. So I wanted to show them the world that may be around them, or the world that they might not know, and show all of the beauty of it and all of the flaws that exist. I didn't want to hold back because the fact of the matter is that life isn't going to hold back when it finally reveals itself. So I felt it was my job to be raw and to be honest.

I'm from the hip-hop generation. I grew up on hip-hop, that's my culture, that's my music, and one thing it has never done: It has never held back. It's always raw, and it's always unfiltered, and that's why so many of us love it. I remember being 13 years old and I thought I had discovered the meaning of life when I first listened to a Tupac [Shakur] album that wasn't censored. I heard all the curse words, but it was truth, and it was harsh, and it opened my eyes. I often say that that's how I want to write: I want to be as unfiltered and as raw as a rapper when I give these books to these kids.

GR: Your story feels so real, so lived. Did you have to do a lot of research, or had you been touched by this kind of experience yourself?

AT: Starr's neighborhood, for one, is based on the neighborhood I grew up in. The neighborhood I lived in up until a few weeks ago, actually. So a lot of that, the culture of the neighborhood, the unspoken rules of the neighborhood, the people, the love, and then the harsh realities of the neighborhood—those are all things I took from my own community and my own life. And Starr's experience in high school is a lot like my experience in college. I went to a mostly white school while living in that neighborhood, so I had to be those two different people.

But as far as seeing a friend lose a life like that, fortunately I've never witnessed anything like that. Growing up, I lost friends to gun violence, although it wasn't like that. But I saw it with my own two eyes, and I felt the trauma of it. So I took those feelings and my own anger, frustration, and pain when I see another black person lose their life at the hands of law enforcement—I took all of those emotions and just poured it into this. So while it wasn't a direct experience of mine, the pain and the trauma and the anger and the frustration are all things that I've felt.

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GR: The starting point for you was Oscar Grant's shooting. At the end of the book, there's a list of 12 other black victims of police shootings, including Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice. Did the project ever feel emotionally overwhelming to you? Did you have to step back at any point?

AT: Absolutely. It's funny you brought that page up because it was while writing that that I really had to take a moment and step away. Those last pages of the book were written the same week that both Philando Castile and Alton Sterling lost their lives [both died after being shot by police officers: Castile in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on July 6, 2016, and Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on July 5, 2016], and that was a hard week. I did not know either of those gentlemen personally, but seeing their deaths play out over and over again on social media, on the news—it was dramatic, it hurt. And all of a sudden this book that I had been told by my editor and my agent was so important, suddenly it didn't feel important because here we were once again, seeing two men lose their lives, one of them in front of a four-year-old child, and what in the world can my book do to stop that? Nothing.

But then I also realized how significant it could be because, if nothing else, maybe, just maybe, I could help someone understand what we feel, and maybe it would give them the courage to speak out alongside us. So it was hard, and I had to really look at it and say, "No, I'm not going to change the world with this book," but if nothing else, it's going to hopefully change some hearts and change some minds, and maybe those hearts and minds will change the world. It also initially gave me a little more fire to get it done, to hopefully help some more people understand why I say those three words: Black Lives Matter.

GR: What's the most moving or affecting thing a reader has said to you?

AT: It's hard, as there are so many. I think, though, the most touching stories for me come from the young black girls who say, "Thank you for this book because it's the first time I have seen myself in a book," or "This is the first time I have seen myself on a cover," or "This is me. I never thought somebody would write a story about somebody like me." Those stories are the most touching.

It's also sad that we have not given these girls [this], that publishing has done them a disservice and not given them enough books in which they can see themselves until recent years, so it's an honor when I get those stories.

I have people like the children of white supremacists, who were raised with those same ideas, who tell me they decided that they needed to change and somebody told them to read my book and it helped open their eyes. That's powerful, and that's amazing, but it's nothing compared to having the real Starrs out there come to me, sometimes crying, saying, "Thank you for this book." That's the most touching thing. I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world.

GR: Teachers are now using your book in schools, either replacing To Kill a Mockingbird with it or pairing your book with it. They're also talking about how it's helping them understand or connect with their students in a way they couldn't before.

AT: Yes, these past few days I was actually in St. Louis, Missouri, for the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English. I had hundreds of teachers tell me that they are using the book in their classroom and that it has sparked so many discussions and helped them get a better understanding of their students and the circumstances their students are dealing with. I've had teachers say they are now using it in place of To Kill a Mockingbird or they are teaching it alongside To Kill a Mockingbird, which gives me chills when I think about that—even to be mentioned alongside that book is mind-blowing.

Other teachers have told me they've had to fight to teach it in their classroom because when administrators hear it's a Black Lives Matter book, they're afraid it's an anti-cop book. But a lot of teachers also told me that once they urged administrators to read it, or once they urged the parents to read it and they did, it became a wider conversation, and it opens the parents' minds and the administrators' minds, and that's incredible, too. A lot of teachers have also said that their most reluctant readers are devouring it.

GR: Yes, I saw a comment from one teacher who said The Hate U Give is the first book some of their high school students have actually read.

AT: Yeah, that's an honor right there, and that motivates me to keep writing for them. It just goes to show, I told my publisher Harper Collins recently, when I was growing up, you guys basically failed me because you assumed that kids like me don't read, and that's a lie. They will read if you give them something where they see themselves or something that they connect with. And I'm seeing proof of that more and more. I've had plenty of kids tell me, "This is the first book I've read beginning to end that I was assigned at school." It's incredible.

GR: How do you think writing the book changed you?

AT: Writing the book and writing about Starr finding her voice helped me find mine. I'm no longer silent about things. I no longer put restraints on myself when I go to events. I'm honest and I tell people, I may make you uncomfortable, but unfortunately that's what the truth does sometimes, so I've found my voice.

But it wasn't only writing the book; the experience of having the book published and meeting the readers has changed me as well. I was never expecting white teenagers from rural Texas to tell me that they loved my book. Or that rich white kids would love my book the way they do. It has made me check myself and say, "You know what? I need to give these teenagers more credit."

I've seen kids that I never would have thought connect with this book somehow, and it's got them saying that things need to change, that this is not OK, and that systemic racism is real. So if nothing else, I've had to check myself on that, and it's making me open my eyes and realize that I've had my own biases, and I'm putting those aside now.

GR: Have you had any negative responses to the book—people who have assumed, maybe without reading it, that it is anti-police?

AT: I haven't had any come to me directly. I've heard bits and pieces. I've had a 13-year-old tell me recently that her mom won't allow her to read the book. I think once the movie comes out, there will be more, and I'm preparing myself for that. If you say Black Lives Matter to people, you're going to get 30 different reactions, and I have to keep reminding people that this is not an anti-cop book; it's anti-police brutality. I'm sure there are people who are uncomfortable or who have issues after reading my book, and that's fine. That's the whole point of writing the book—letting readers decide how they feel about it. But no matter what, I stand by it and I stand by the message of it.

GR: One aspect of the book that's won praise is your portrayal of Starr's family life in the book, the way the Carters talk and relate. I particularly loved when Maverick, Starr's dad, defends his "Harry Potter is about gangs" theory. I got the impression you had fun writing these characters.

AT: I did. I loved writing Starr's family. And I was told that someone showed [Maverick's comments] to J.K. Rowling, and she thought it was the funniest thing ever, and that just made my life—now there's nothing that can top that. I needed to write Starr's family because she needed that strong family foundation, that joy and happiness from her family. And I needed to write those light moments to get through sometimes; her parents are probably my two favorite characters besides her. It was a joy to write a fully formed black family. Yeah, they live in the hood, but Starr has two parents, a loving household, and they're there for her and they're involved in her life, and I wanted to show that.

GR: What's it been like being on the set of the film, seeing your characters brought to life?

AT: Being on the set was incredible, another one of those "am I dreaming?" moments. Everyone was like a big happy family, and I was welcomed into that family. I was made to feel as if I was the most important part of that family, which, for authors, a lot of times we don't get that. They even let me do a guest appearance—it's in an important scene for Starr, that's all I can say.

But yeah, it was an amazing experience. Our cast is incredible. Amandla is absolutely the perfect Starr. She carried a copy of the book around set at all times full of notes. Her dedication almost brought me to tears. But the entire cast brought everyone to life in the most amazing way. Russell Hornsby as Maverick—he walks exactly how I imagined Maverick would walk. Regina Hall, Common, Issa Rae, everyone—they were all just fantastic. We made a joke; we call it The Hate U Give, but we're really giving a lot of love into this project. I'm so excited. I feel this is the one time, I hope, that readers will really, really, really be happy with the movie.

GR: Could you talk to us about some of your favorite writers, or favorite books, or the writers who have inspired you?

AT: Jacqueline Woodson is one of my favorite authors; I would read her grocery list. She and J.K. Rowling are my "big two," I call them; they are my hugest influences as a writer. I also love Walter Dean Myers' work and Jason Reynolds. Jason is a friend, but I'm a huge fan of his work, and I'm so thankful that so many more people are now recognizing his work because he's incredible.

And there are a lot of new voices coming out in YA that people need to pay attention to. I love Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. Everything they write is incredible, and they're also giving us new voices in YA that haven't been heard before, and we need them. Nic Stone with Dear Martin—I love that book. There's another author called Ashley Woodfolk, who writes amazing books, and Dhonielle Clayton's The Belles, which comes out next year. I love that book.

I will say as a teenager, I didn't read a lot because I didn't see a lot of books that reflected me, so besides Jacqueline Woodson, J.K. Rowling, Walter Dean Myers, Maya Angelou, and Langston Hughes, I would say my biggest influences as a writer were rappers. I think people kind of get a sense of that when they read what I write.

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GR: You were a teen rapper?

AT: Yes, and my second book is actually about a rapper.

GR: Is it set in the same location, Garden Heights?

AT: Yes, it's called On the Come Up, and it's set in the same neighborhood, but it's a different set of characters. It's about a 16-year-old girl named Briana who finds her voice and her power through hip-hop. And it's about what happens when you go after the thing you thought you wanted and what happens when you actually get it. It deals with issues like poverty and other things regarding social justice, but all in all I call it my ode to hip-hop.

GR: Will any of the characters from The Hate U Give be in it?

AT: That's a possibility; they may be mentioned, or there may be bits about them. I'm not sure they're going to make any appearances. The thing is that what happens to Khalil and what happened with the riots and everything in The Hate U Give—it affects Bri's life now, so it's connected in a lot of ways. I would just say that Bri's story parallels the story of hip-hop. Hip-hop started from the ashes in the Bronx as buildings were burned, and now Bri's story starts in the ashes of Garden Heights after the buildings have been burned because of Khalil, so it's a new beginning for the neighborhood in a lot of ways.

GR: If there's one message you want people to take from your The Hate U Give, what would you say it is?

AT: I often say that message would be that empathy is more powerful than sympathy. I hope that Starr's story helps people understand a little more why we say Black Lives Matter. I hope it helps them understand those young black girls and black boys they see in passing or they see in their neighborhood. I hope it gives them empathy and that when they see someone like Tamir Rice, they mourn for him as if he were their little brother and not just another name. And I hope it leads them to read more books about people like themselves or people unlike themselves.

So empathy over sympathy, and we could use a hell of a lot of that right now.

Comments Showing 1-37 of 37 (37 new)

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message 1: by Kaya (new)

Kaya This is amazing. I would love to meet this author, because hearing the thoughts behind this book just brings back that feeling of empowerment again!

message 2: by Sara (last edited Dec 05, 2017 05:02PM) (new)

Sara Foy The book is absolutely life changing. As a white female looking in, I have honestly been moved by the story and struggles that are not only presented in the book, but in real life. I, too, would love to meet Angie Thomas. And I thank her for impacting my life :)

message 3: by Anaya (new)

Anaya This was honestly such a good book that opened my eyes and it makes me happy that it caused people to read it from start to end.

KatieMillsGiorgio Fantastic interview. Thanks so much for taking the time to share so much! This book is truly incredible, deserving of all awards and praise! It makes me so happy to hear that teens and teachers are picking it up. So many powerful messages told through these amazing characters! Three cheers for more empathy in the world! Keep sharing your voice Angie!

message 5: by Mark (new)

Mark Thanks so much for the interview Angie, and a special thanks for writing The Hate U Give. It was a great opportunity to gain more genuine empathy for each situation and relationship in the book. You have helped me be a better man. I'm thankful.

message 6: by AJ (new)

AJ I had never actually read a book where I saw myself so clearly, looking back on where I came from and how it clashed with the life my mom worked for and so desperately wanted me to have. Having friends in school who couldn't and sometimes wouldn't see the world for what it is. Feeling alienated from old friends and family because they felt like because of how I was brought up, I betrayed them in a way. Having to not only deal with both active and passive racism but internalized racism that I had to work to overcome. Being caught between those worlds was a weight I felt before I had words for it. Now, I do.

As one of the Starr's out there, thank you so much for this.

message 7: by Nema (new)

Nema Usman Amazing interview.
It's really great to know that author of one of my favourite book really likes JK Rowling.
Looking forward to next book by Angie Thomas

message 8: by Nikita (new)

Nikita Deshpande Great Interview! Can't wait for Angie's next book. Congratulations on the double win!

message 9: by Mary (new)

Mary Adeson Congratulations on the double win. I can't wait for On The Come Up.

message 10: by Jayne (new)

Jayne Bauling So pleased! Congratulations, so well-deserved. It was far and away my top YA read of 2017.

message 11: by Rida (new)

Rida Imran Can't wait for her next book to come out!

message 12: by Briana (new)

Briana De La Garza I went into this book not expecting a lot, but you totally surprised me. Thank You! Congratulations!

message 13: by caitlín (new)

caitlín I absolutely adore this interview

message 14: by Shani (new)

Shani Great interview! I didn't know the book was being made into a movie! How exciting! I am super impressed to see the book won in both of the categories it was nominated in! It was an easy choice in both categories to vote for! Can't wait for the next one!

message 15: by luna (new)

luna I just love this. I am SO happy I picked up The Hate U Give, and I love how real and passionate Angie Thomas is. Not only do we need more authors like her, we need more PEOPLE like her. I'm ecstatic she's writing another book! Can't wait!

message 16: by Shaye (new)

Shaye Miller Wonderful interview! I LOVED the book and look forward to seeing the movie. <3

Gwen - Chew & Digest Books - Great interview and I'm thrilled that the book has done so well. I hand sell it, suggest it, talk about it with young and old that have no idea what it is to grow up without the white privilege that most of the people, especially teens around me don't seem to understand.

For me, it wasn't just about white privilege, it was also about teens that have to wear a mask because of whatever is happening at home that they can't or aren't 'allowed' to talk about. That made it even more relatable to me and has been a talking point that opens up a world of knowledge and healing with the young adults that I've talked to about it.

Thank for the book, the interview and hopefully the movie that will open up a new world of understanding and openness for so many of us.

message 18: by K (new)

K Jay Wonderful interview!
I loved the book so much. Can't wait to read your next one!!

message 19: by Cody (new)

Cody Levi Wow. I have no words. Amazing!

message 20: by Leslie (new)

Leslie Manning Congratulations. You deserve it. I know how hard you have worked, and how hard and often unforgiving the publishing world can be to women, and especially women of color. Hats off!

message 21: by Maria (new)

Maria Ryan It's so evident that the amount of thought and caring that went into answering these questions also went into writing the book. Adults love it too. I am the mother of two teens and this book impacts all people, all ages.

message 22: by TeaAndBooks (new)

TeaAndBooks CONGRATULATIONS! This book deserves it all! It was phenomenal!

message 23: by Nichelle (last edited Dec 06, 2017 03:35PM) (new)

Nichelle So glad that GoodReads recommended this interview for me. Great interview, awesome book. Can't for the movie and the next book On the Come Up

message 24: by Laura (new)

Laura I am currently reading this with a group of high schoolers and they are so engaged and loving it. I cannot wait to share this interview with them tomorrow.

message 25: by Monica (new)

Monica I can't say enough about this book. The interview was equally written and more touching as it made me hold back tears by how touched I was with the depth or reality and how she made it come to life. She gave a visual of Black Lives Matter for sure! I'm so beyond happy she won the award I had been raving about this book all year.

message 26: by Michelle (new)

Michelle This book is so empowering.

message 27: by Shivi (new)

Shivi Waowww that's amazing interview..i really loved the book.
I'm so happy she won the award,she is so passionnate and desreves this award....thank you so much goodreads for reccomending this interview.

message 28: by Michael (new)

Michael Obiora Great interview. Great book 👌🏿

message 29: by AyeAyeCaptain (new)

AyeAyeCaptain Good Lord I love this woman so much!!!

message 30: by alice (new)

alice Tileston Ms Thomas,
Wanted to let you know i volunteer with "School on Wheels".
They sponsored a summer reading program.
Two of the boys i work with read your book, their choice, and both won. 1st and 2nd place. All 6 boys residing there and us 3 tutors had lively discussions after we all read it!
Unfortunately we need more people to face up to the problems our "not white" people face!
Thank you for having the courage!💜

message 31: by Lindsay (last edited Dec 11, 2017 04:08AM) (new)

Lindsay Thank you so much for sharing this Q&A, and huge thanks to amazing author Angie Thomas for taking the time to respond to these questions! The Hate U Give is a truly life-changing book; I can’t wait for her next book. Thank you, Angie, for being the voice that’s so needed right now.

message 32: by Cade (new)

Cade C8B nice

message 33: by Josephine (new)

Josephine I am so happy that this author is getting the attention she deserves. I loved this book with every part of me. It is so rare to see myself represented in mainstream YA, alongside all the other popular YA books. I'm so happy this book is touching so many lives. And I can only hope that when the movie comes out. It will touch many more. Congrats, Angie Thomas you deserve it.

message 34: by Karen (new)

Karen Kline Angie, thanks for writing so honestly about two of the biggest problems in our country -- racism and gun violence. You are a true patriot and books like yours can change lives. I hope the next generation will be moved to action by your book.

message 35: by Tara (last edited Dec 31, 2017 06:49PM) (new)

Tara Brown What a fantastic interviw! Thank you so much! My students have heard me talk about The Hate U Give more times than I can count! We are going to be listening to it on Audible in February...yay! I didn't know about On the Come Up! I cannot wait to read it! Thank you so much for everything...your hard work is paying off and you are changing lives! You are appreciated and loved! Keep being awesome! :-)

message 36: by Gerald (new)

Gerald I absolutely loved the book The Hate U Give, it showed us the reality of the time we are living when racism is still a problem and also gangs which are still present today. Loved the boo:-)

message 37: by Marlena (new)

Marlena L. This book is very one sided and the family especially Star NEVER thought about how the police officers family might be feeling. He acted out of fear not anger or hatred.

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