When people feel helpless, hopeless, or lost, some turn to art to express their feelings, and, in some cases, to effect change. As storytellers, often we are trying to make sense of important issues through our writing. Our job is to tell a good story, but sometimes we do more with our words.
In light of current events, I wanted to showcase two authors whose storytelling has moved me – who have, through their words, grappled with tragedy, inequality, and systemic racism. To help shed a light on something so large, they’ve been using stories to spark difficult conversations.
Angie Thomas, author of the critically acclaimed, The Hate U Give
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Thomas’ book shot to number one on the New York Times Bestseller’s List one week after it came out. The Hate U Give, named after a Tupac song, is the story of a black female teen, Starr Carter. Starr, who lives in a black neighborhood and attends a rich, mostly white school, witnesses the fatal shooting of her best friend at the hands of police officers. The novel chronicles the events that follow as she deals with racial injustice while living in two racially-different, parallel worlds.
When asked by The Cut to describe why she chose a female protagonist, Thomas stated:
I wanted to show it from the perspective of a black girl who is affected by [police brutality]on a personal level. When Trayvon Martin lost his life, the last person he spoke to was a young lady by the name of Rachel Jeantel. When George Zimmerman was on trial, they had Rachel come to the stand as a witness. There was more discussion about the way she presented herself than about what she was saying. I was so angry about that. Nobody was upholding this young black girl as the hero she was, for doing what she was doing.
By writing The Hate U Give, Thomas sought to expand people’s understanding of the Black Lives Movement and maybe, expose people unaware of the term code-switching-the act of switching one’s behavior, appearance, and/or style of speech to make those around you feel comfortable and therefore treat you fairly. The book has sold over 2 million copies worldwide, is now a feature film, and has encouraged people of all races to have difficult conversations.
Tomi Adeyemim, author of the fantasy novel Children of Blood and Bone
Adeyemim let the words flow into Children of Blood and Bone and its sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengence after the 2015 shooting at a North Carolina Church. A white man shot and killed six women and three men, all black.
Children of Blood and Bone was additionally inspired by the Yoruba people, West African mythology, and the Black Lives Movement. Adeyemim crafted a story where a group of individuals are persecuted and brutally murdered for their ability to do magic. At the center of the story is a young teenage girl Zélie who hides her magical abilities and trains to defend herself in secret. Thrown into an adventure to save their world and bring peace to those who are persecuted and those who oppress, Zélie and her brother find an unlikely ally in the daughter of their oppressor.
Overall, the book deals with larger themes of racism, classism, and power. In her own words, Adeyemim sums up her role to make changes in the world. From Adeyemim’s website:
“You contribute to a world of people trying to understand other people, you help build a generation that hasn’t yet learned to hate anybody who is different from them.”
As writers, we have an opportunity to tell stories that need to be told. Through our unique voices, we can open up worlds, ideas, and perspectives for individuals who see and experience the world differently. Storytellers can change the world, one reader at a time.
For your consideration: Writing What You Don’t Know: Diversity as a White Author