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Superstar author Angie Thomas excels in...

Superstar author Angie Thomas excels in YA books, films, and fantasy

By: NK Wessman - December 20, 2023

Born and raised in Jackson, the author encourages aspiring writers through Belhaven’s awarding a full-ride scholarship to one incoming creative writing major and additional scholarships to other applicants each year in her honor.

Writing about racism and police brutality in her debut novel and first New York Times bestseller, Angie Thomas in 2023 turned her pandemic-inspired search for comedic escape into a fantastic first-of-a-planned trilogy that features “Manifestors, highly revered master wizards in a secret league of gifted people called the Remarkables.”

Her first book, The Hate U Give, debuted in 2017 at the top of the Times Best Seller list for young adult hardcover books and became a motion picture just one year later. The Jackson native set that book and her third, Concrete Rose, a prequel to The Hate U Give, in the fictional Garden Heights neighborhood but placed her fifth, Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy, firmly in Fondren, “an artsy neighborhood known for its monthly street festivals.”

About her latest, released in April 2023, one reviewer credited the author with “creating a magical world invisible to most Unremarkables, Thomas reminds kids to appreciate their own surroundings. Adventure, and augury can be found anywhere.”

A Publishers Weekly review affirmed that her fantasy book “brings her trademark voice to an action-packed series kickoff rooted in a mixture of African diasporic myth, biblical references, and U.S. history. Imbuing characters both brave and sweetly vulnerable with unflappable senses of humor amid harrowing circumstances, Thomas creates an elaborate supernatural mythology that boldly confronts fantasy tropes and questions of forgiveness.”

Thomas followed her 2017 The Hate U Give  in 2019 with her second NYT bestseller, On The Come Up, referenced on Amazon as “an ode to hip hop from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation.” Also featured as a film in 2022, the book compels the reader to consider poverty, drug dealing and addiction, absent parents, and other issues that a brilliant but reckless teenager encounters.

In a starred review for On The Come Up, Kirkus published, “This honest and unflinching story of toil, tears, and triumph is a musical love letter that proves literary lightning does indeed strike twice. The rawness of Bri’s narrative demonstrates Thomas’ undeniable storytelling prowess. A joyous experience awaits. Read it. Learn it. Love it.”The internationally acclaimed superstar author digressed between books two and four to release in 2020 Find Your Voice: A Guided Journal for Writing Your Truth, a tool to help aspiring writers tell their stories.

“Write fearlessly. Write what is true and real to you,” Thomas herself advises on her website. Her stories of heartache turned to humor, brilliance from the dark, and bravery for the vulnerable reflect her own coming up as a home-schooled student who earned her bachelor of fine arts degree in creative writing from Belhaven University in 2011. She was the first Black student to graduate in creative writing, and that’s where her writing career began.

Thomas told reviewer Jana Hoops for the USA Today Network in 2017 that she intended The Hate U Give to be a component for “a short story collection as part of my senior project at Belhaven. Every week, we would have to turn in a portion of our short stories for critique. My professor, Mr. Howard Bahr, who taught me in several creative writing courses, would always comment that I was adding too many details, plots, characters, etc., for a short story. He suggested that I consider writing it as a novel one day. So, I did. Thanks, Mr. Bahr!”

In another interview, Thomas revealed that she stepped away from the story, not returning to it until 2015. She reached out on Twitter to Bent Agency’s Brooks Sherman, who became her literary agent, to ask if he thought publishers would show interest in a title influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement.

In the Hoops interview, Thomas recalled, “Initially, I was afraid that the book was too heavy-handed and too diverse for Young Adult literature. I was so afraid that when a literary agency held a Q&A on Twitter, I asked if the topic was appropriate. An agent responded and said that not only was it appropriate but he would like to read my manuscript. I signed with him a few months later. A few months after that, he submitted the book to publishers.

“Within a day, we received an offer. Soon, twelve more publishers wanted the book as well, which led to a thirteen-publishing house auction that lasted about two weeks. It was one of the wildest times in my life.”

Sherman had been seeking a story that dealt with social justice, and he nervously encouraged Thomas to send her material. The result? The Big Five—Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hatchette, and Simon & Schuster—all took part in the book’s auction, which Sherman described as “the most aggressive he’s run in his entire career.” Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins acquired the book.

Now the acclaimed author herself encourages aspiring writers through Belhaven’s awarding a full-ride scholarship to one incoming creative writing major and additional scholarships to other applicants each year. The first winner of the scholarship in 2020 was Imani Skipworth, a Jackson native and graduate of Mississippi School of the Arts, who is now a senior.

“The scholarship has helped me tremendously in taking the financial burden off my parents and allowing me to explore my craft without the extra stress,” Skipworth said. “I’ve enjoyed studying creative writing at Belhaven. I’m learning to develop healthy writing habits while getting the assistance I need from my professors.”

Other Belhaven/Angie Thomas Scholarship winners are Andrea Foreman (2021), Dee Holden (2022) and Ahniya Myers (2023). The 2024 winner was selected in mid-December and has not yet been announced by Belhaven. 

Thomas said, “Seeing the Angie Thomas Writers Scholarship have a major impact on the lives of young writers has truly been a blessing, and I’m honored to see so much talent find its way to Belhaven as a result of the scholarship.”

Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Thomas is now an Atlanta, Georgia, resident. In addition to her creative writing background, Thomas claims an “unofficial degree in Hip Hop” and says she “can also still rap if needed.”

About the Author(s)
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NK Wessman

NK Wessman authored Katrina, Mississippi: Voices from Ground Zero, the compelling story of first responders who stayed behind when the worst natural disaster in our history slammed the Gulf Coast. She co-wrote You Can Fix The Fat From Childhood—And Other Heart Risks, Too in collaboration with Dr. Gerald Berenson, founder and senior researcher of the Bogalusa Heart Study. Wessman also has worked as a journalist, public relations practitioner/consultant, and now as a book coach and editor.
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