As the only Black student in one of her college creative writing classes, Angie Thomas once felt like she didn’t belong. Now, as the author of several widely acclaimed young adult novels, she’s made it her goal to reflect authentic stories about Black youth.
Thomas is best known for her 2017 debut novel “The Hate U Give,” which tells the story of Black teenager Starr Carter after she witnesses a white police officer shoot her Black friend. Thomas’s prequel “Concrete Rose,” published in January 2021 and debuting at No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller young adult hardcover list, focuses on the adolescence of Starr’s father, Maverick.
In conversation with opinion writer Jonathan Capehart, Thomas was featured on Washington Post Live’s virtual Race in America: Giving Voice series on Jan. 21 to discuss “Concrete Rose” and the state of America. In her half-hour discussion with Capehart, Thomas explained her mission to humanize and normalize Black masculinity with “Concrete Rose.”
“It’s a part of the white supremacy of this society to make Black men and Black boys feel as if showing emotion makes them weak,” Thomas said. “If you don’t see somebody as human, it takes away that value on their life. And you will find reasons to justify why it’s okay that they lose their life.”
Even though “Concrete Rose” takes place in the late nineties, Thomas draws parallels between racial violence then and now, calling attention to how social media has increased visibility for police brutality today. Although writing “felt like an escape at times,” she shared, working on her prequel amidst Black Lives Matter protests reminded her of the responsibility she has as an author. “It made me look at Maverick through an even clearer lens,” she said.
Capehart questioned Thomas about the state of America, especially considering the recent storming of the U.S. Capitol by domestic terrorists. “It is well beyond time for America to recognize that the sins of the past are the sins of the present,” Thomas said. “It’s astonishing to me that people don’t recognize systemic racism exists, and it really blows my mind when people are more afraid of being called racist than of being racist.”
Criticizing the circulation of misinformation online, Thomas compared the national response to today’s Black Lives Matter movement with the response to civil rights activism in the 1960s. Even though Martin Luther King Jr. is beloved now, Thomas reminded viewers, he was hated during his time.
Although Thomas believes increased public awareness is a positive first step toward change, true change won’t be possible as long as people refuse to accept that history is repeating itself. “This is what America does when Black people or marginalized people (who) speak up and speak out against injustice — there is an attempt to villainize them to silence them,” she said. “And until we recognize that and work towards fixing that, we’re going to have this happen again and again.”
Despite America’s troubling civil unrest, Thomas has hope for the future. She called Vice President Kamala Harris proof that “we’re still making progress, even in the face of so many injustices” and shared her optimism for the Biden-Harris administration.
Specifically, the author is confident in the next generation of changemakers — her eyes lit up at Capehart’s mention of twenty-two-year-old National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, who recently performed her poem “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration.
“She’s brilliance personified,” Thomas said. Thomas, who noticed “The Hate U Give” on the background book shelf in a video interview with Gorman, shared that she felt honored to know Gorman had read her novel. “I’m excited to see what she continues to do … She’s so young, and I hope this shows people, that it reminds people, that young people have some of the most powerful voices in this country.”
Thomas’s faith in youth is unwavering, and as America grapples with its racial reckoning, she will continue to uplift readers with her storytelling.
“I’m going to write stories that show Black kids just how beautiful they are,” Thomas said determinedly.