Angie Thomas was a senior in college when she had the idea for her award-winning novel and now movie, “The Hate U Give.” Thomas grew up navigating two sides of herself: the girl who attended a mostly white private school, and the girl who was from a predominantly Black neighborhood in Mississippi. As a young girl, she often wondered why she could never find books with characters she related to, which, in turn, gave her the opportunity to explore her own story more deeply. Unapologetically vulnerable with each word, Thomas’s “The Hate U Give” emulates pieces of her experience and paves the way for a more understanding and aware society. As last week’s keynote author for Roadrunner Days, Thomas did not stray away from that beautiful vulnerability and let her words of wisdom flow during the Q&A.
As a natural storyteller, Thomas’s work was inspired by her personal experiences with literature. Much of her childhood was spent loving and reading books, but, as she grew older, she recognized the disconnect between her reality and the worlds in her books.
“I was not used to seeing books about people like me in circumstances like mine, specifically when it comes to young adult literature. As a teenager, I hated reading… but now I can look back and say it wasn’t that I hated reading, I hated the books that were being presented to me. By not seeing myself in the pages of these books that were being given to me, it made me feel as if my life wasn’t worthy; my stories weren’t worthy of being written down,” said Thomas.
As an author, Thomas’s goal is to allow for those who often feel overlooked to pick up her books and to feel seen and understood through literature. Thomas finds herself inspired by her childhood and the community she grew up in.
“Angie Thomas would not be Angie Thomas if it were not for that hood known as Georgetown in Jackson, Mississippi. That is the community that raised me,” Thomas said.
Being able to portray her life in an authentic way is important to Thomas. She is passionate about giving recognition to the people in her beloved community.
“These are people and places and situations that often, when they are presented to a wider audience, it’s in a negative light,” Thomas said.
Being an author was “written in the stars” for Thomas. As a child, she often found herself reading books and retelling the stories with her own preferred endings. Throughout her life, she understood that storytelling through books was important to not just those around her, but people across the world.
“It wasn’t until I got to college and started studying creative writing and realizing ‘Oh wow, I love writing novels and storytelling,’ that I considered, ‘you know what? Maybe I can be an author.’ It wasn’t until then that I started looking up authors who had backgrounds similar to mine. I realized that this dream is possible,” said Thomas.
It has always been clear to Thomas that words hold an infinite amount of power. As a young aspiring rapper, Thomas was aware of the impression that words leave on those around her and the way they create change through generations of people.
“You have rappers who are telling stories of things that are actually happening, using words and language to paint pictures… They are using language to activate something in young people,” Thomas said.
As an author of young adult literature, Thomas provides many opportunities to those who read her books. Whether it is finding comfort in the fact that there are books which reflect the stories of the unheard, or learning about their experiences, Thomas makes the process accessible to young readers. Furthermore, she magnifies what it means to be a writer in this generation and to reach people in a way that changes them significantly. Thomas embodies perseverance and grace within her craft, and she wants to encourage that within young writers.
“There is no such thing as an aspiring writer. If you write, you’re a writer. My biggest problem in my creative process is getting in my own way… For all you writers, it’s a constant battle. To all the writers out there, get out of your own way. Get out of your head, to a degree, and just let the words flow.”