Dear Reader... a Letter from The Hate You Give author Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still lives in Jackson, Mississippi. A former teen rapper, she recently won a Walter Dean Myers Grant, awarded by the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Her debut, The Hate U Give, is a powerful and brave YA novel about what prejudice looks like in the 21st century. Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl's struggle for justice. Movie rights have been sold to Fox, with Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) to star. Read an introduction to her book below. You can find Angie on Twitter@acthomaswrites or visit her website, acthomaswrites.com.
Author photo © Anissa Hidouk
I remember the first time I saw Emmett Louis Till.
I couldn’t have been more than eight years old. I came across his photo in a Jet magazine that marked the anniversary of his death. At the time I was convinced he wasn’t real, or at least that he wasn’t a person. What was supposed to be his face was mutilated beyond recognition. He looked more like a prop from a movie to me; a monster from some over-the-top horror flick.
But he was a person, a boy, and his story was a cautionary tale, even for a black girl in Mississippi who was born more than three decades after he died. “Know your worth,” my mum would say, “but also know that not everyone values you as much as I do.”
Still, Emmett wasn’t real to me. There was no way I’d ever have to worry about anything like that happening to me or to someone I knew. Things had changed, even in Mississippi. That was history. The present had its own problems.
I grew up in a neighbourhood that’s notorious for all the wrong reasons: drug dealers, shootings, crime, insert other “ghetto” stereotypes here. While everything they showed on the news was true, there was so much more that you wouldn’t see unless you lived there. My neighbours were family. The neighbourhood drug dealer was a superhero who gave kids money for snacks and beat up paedophiles who tried to snatch little girls off the street. The cops could be superheroes too, but I was taught at a young age to be “mindful” around them. So were my friends. We’d all heard stories, and though they didn’t come with mutilated photos, they were realer than Emmett.
I remember the first time I saw the video of Oscar Grant.
I was a transfer student in my first year at the college I’d later graduate from. It was in a nicer part of town than where I lived, but only ten minutes away from it, and it was very, very white. The majority of the time, I was the only black student in my creative writing classes. I did everything I could so no one would label me as the “black girl from the hood.” I would leave home, blasting Tupac, but by the time I arrived to pick up a friend, I was listening to the Jonas Brothers. I kept quiet whenever race came up in discussions, despite the glances I’d get because as the “token black girl”, I was expected to speak.
But Oscar did something to me. Suddenly, Emmett wasn’t history. Emmett was still reality.
The video was shocking for multiple reasons, one being that someone actually caught it on tape. This was undeniable evidence that had never been provided for the stories I’d heard. Yet my classmates, who had never heard such tales, had their own opinions about it.
“He should’ve just done what they said.”
“He was resisting.”
“I heard he was an ex-con and a drug dealer.”
“He had it coming. Why are people so mad?”
“They were just doing their job.”
I hate to admit it, but I still remained silent.
I was hurt, no doubt. And angry. Frustrated. Straight-up pissed. I knew plenty of Oscars. I grew up with them and I was friends with them. This was like being told that they deserved to die.
As the unrest took place in Oakland, I wondered how my community would react if that happened to one of our Oscars. I also wondered if my classmates would make the same comments if I became an Oscar. I wasn’t an ex-con or a drug dealer, but I was from a neighbourhood they were afraid to visit, the same neighbourhood they once jokingly said was full of criminals, not knowing that’s where I lived until months later.
From all of those questions and emotions, The Hate U Give was born.
I’ve always told stories. When I can’t find a way to say the words out loud, I create characters who do it for me. The Hate U Give started as a short story in my senior year. It was cathartic at the time, and I thought I was done telling Starr and Khalil’s story because I foolishly hoped Oscar wouldn’t happen again.
But then there was Trayvon. Michael. Eric. Tamir. And there was more anger, frustration, and hurt for me, my peers and the kids in my neighbourhood who saw themselves in those gentlemen. So I expressed those feelings the best way I knew how, through story, in hopes that I would give a voice to every kid who feels the same way I do and is not sure how to express it.
But my ultimate hope is that every single person who reads this book, no matter their experiences, walks away from it understanding those feelings and sharing them in some way. And maybe then, Emmett Louis Till can truly become history.