Doing the write thing: Angie Thomas

Afua Hirsch in The Guardian:

UntitledIf a spaceship landed in northern Texas and beamed every adolescent within a 50-mile radius into its desolate interior, the scene would look a lot like what now lies in front of me. It’s difficult to believe there are any teenagers in north Texas not currently forming orderly queues at the Las Colinas conference centre – a formidably angular set of slabs in the Texan wasteland. Yet among the lines of young readers at the North Texas Teen Book Festival, their arms cradling impractical numbers of books, and the row of authors signing on an industrial scale, one woman stands out. Angie Thomas, one of the youngest writers in the place, is one black face in a sea of white. She’s upbeat, her hair tied with a perky bow, and when a fan says she looks “so pretty” in a top that combines a hood with sheer lace panels, she laughs and says “thank you” in a Mississippi accent whose vowels are so many notes, it’s a beguiling song. She fingers the garment. “My friend called it Thug Life with a feminine twist.” However you interpret that description, it will mean something different after reading Thomas’s book, the recently released The Hate U Give. She’s a 29-year-old woman from Jackson who has written a novel that is a strident and utterly compelling march into the most sensitive and contentious subjects in America today: race, privilege and the killings of unarmed black people at the hands of the police. And she has done so for the young adult fiction scene – the popular “YA” genre still best known for Harry Potter and the Twilight trilogy. Among these overwhelmingly white adolescents in suburban Texas, the book has completely sold out and will, a few days later, debut at number one on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s a publishing miracle.

The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr, a 16-year-old black girl who lives in inner-city America in a neighbourhood that is poor and black, but goes to school in a suburb that is affluent and white. At home, Starr’s loving and protective parents usher their children into a room they call the “den” not just to watch basketball games, but to shield them from the machine gun fire that frequently erupts on the street outside. One night Starr and her childhood friend Khalil are driving home from a party when they are pulled over by police. Khalil, who is unarmed, is made to get out of the vehicle, and an officer – who later claims he mistook the boy’s hairbrush for a gun –shoots and kills him, traumatising Starr.

More here.