The Hate U Give is a novel about Starr Carter, a young girl navigating life between her poor, mostly black neighbourhood and the wealthy, mostly white school she attends. Starr’s world is turned upside down after she witnesses the death of a childhood friend at the hands of a police officer – prompting her to take to the streets and protest the injustice around her.
Author Angie Thomas wanted to write a story inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement for a young adult audience, but despite its official category, the book has proven a compelling read for readers of all ages (it also ended up being adapted into a film of the same name). We chatted to the author about her writing process and what prompted her to pen the bestselling novel.
What compelled you to write The Hate U Give? I first got the idea when I was a senior in college. I was a lot like Starr, living in two very different worlds – my mostly black, poor neighbourhood, and my mostly white, upper class school. I often changed who I was, wherever I was. But while I was in school, a young man named Oscar Grant lost his life at the hands of police brutality in Oakland, CA. Although I didn’t know him personally, I took his death personally, especially when so many of my classmates tried to justify his murder. In hopes of processing my own feelings and helping them understand more, I wrote a short story that later became The Hate U Give.
What were the biggest challenges involved in writing this novel? The researched required for the book was the biggest challenge. I had to do a lot of legal research, even though the book didn’t dive into those aspects a whole lot. But I needed to be informed regardless, so I spoke with attorneys, read court transcripts, and watched lots of news footage on real-life cases similar to the one in the book.
You’ve mentioned in past interviews that you tried to break stereotypes around black people when writing this book. How did you navigate doing so in your writing? For me, I always aim to write three-dimensional characters, and I believe that when you do that, you’re breaking away from stereotypes. Stereotypes are thin portrayals of people. But the more you humanize your characters, the less you have to worry about stereotypes.
There are universal themes to be found in this novel, but the context is specific to the African-American experience, and in particular a young black girl’s experience. What do you hope the international audience will take away from the story? I hope that international readers and viewers will realize that even when a story is specific, there can be elements that everyone connects with. I also hope that they walk away with more empathy and with a yearning to find out about more lives unlike their own.
Who did you turn to for advice when writing? My mom is my go-to sounding board. She hears my worst and best ideas before anyone else.
What did you learn about yourself in the course of writing this book? I learned more about my own voice and the power of it. This book has strengthened me in a lot of ways and has empowered me to speak up and speak out more.
How long did it take you to write The Hate U Give? Once I decided to turn my college short story into a novel, it took 6 months to write my first draft. With all of the edits that I did, overall it took a year and a half.
Have you received any feedback from readers in particular that has touched you? My favourite feedback is by far from the black girls who fall in love with the book and see themselves in Starr. I wanted to give them a mirror more than anything else so they can know they aren’t alone but even more so, so they can feel empowered.
What’s your advice to writers who are unsure of whether their writing or voice matters? Write for yourself first, not for anyone else. Write the book that you want to read. I promise, for that alone it will matter.
What will we next see from you? My second novel comes out in early 2019 and it is called On the Come Up. It’s not a sequel to THUG but it is set in the same neighbourhood. It’s about a 16 year old girl name Brianna who wants to be a rapper, and her life is turned upside down when a song she makes goes viral – for all the wrong reasons.
We’re giving away five copies of The Hate U Give. Throw your hat into the ring by heading over here.