This post was co-written by Alli Hartley-Kong and Monica Valentine, Education Programs Specialist in the Informal Learning Office.
How much diversity do you see in teen romance novels? During the pandemic, author Dhonielle Clayton spent time with her teenage niece binge-watching movies. As Clayton explained at the 2022 National Book Festival, her niece asked, “why is it out of the fifteen or so movies we’ve watched there’s only one Black girl who gets a love story?”
Clayton took her niece’s question as a call to action. She asked fellow authors Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon to collaborate with her on Blackout. The book debuted to such acclaim that a few months later the team released Whiteout—which they celebrated with local teens at an event here at the Library.
To honor all types of love this Valentine’s Day, we invite teens to watch the authors’ talks. After watching and reflecting, you can apply what you learn about representation and collaborative stories in a writing activity.
- 12:15 The panel discusses the need for kids to see themselves in stories
- 12:25 Woodfolk reflects on the importance of portraying a variety of experiences within the Black community
- 16:56 The panel members discuss how they connect with young people
- 29:45 and 39:04: Blackout models the need for people of color to care for their mental health and destigmatizes seeking professional help to do so
- 38:40 Stone discusses how portraying fully rounded characters affirms the humanity of Black teens
- 42:00 Jackson shares the importance of honoring teens’ authentic experiences
- At 29:05, the authors discuss normalizing mental healthcare in their writing. What other teen books, TV shows, and movies feature therapy? Are these portrayals successful? Where do they fall short?
- At 55:00, the authors discuss connecting with young people. As a teen, what are some things you want authors writing for you to know about your life and experiences?
- 7:28 Clayton leads a discussion of how their collaborative writing process worked
- 12:20 Blackout is optioned on Netflix as a series with high-profile producers
- 17:52 The authors share how they stay relevant to young audiences
- 22:15 Each author reflects on her writing style and how it contributed to the book
- 29:56 The authors give advice to young storytellers
- 36:30 The authors share how they include personal experiences in writing
- 43:00 Woodfolk, Yoon and Thomas speak about how they quell imposter syndrome
- At 37:50, the authors share how they learned from each other’s different writing styles. What are some ways you might describe your own writing style? How does it compare to your friends?
- At 27:50, the authors share how the book shows different cultures in the Black community. Why do the authors share that this is important to them?
Activity: Write Your Own Collaborative Novel
Gather together a group of friends for a fun out-of-school project. With several of you each writing a few pages, you’ll find yourself with a book in no time!
The first step is to find your collaborators. As Yoon said in an earlier Library of Congress blog post, “We share a point of view of the world, especially on Black love.”
- What shared values do you have?
- How can your writing reflect your identity and what your community cares about?
Figure out your setting. Both Blackout and Whiteout have a citywide event at the heart of the stories —an electrical blackout and snowstorm, respectively. The authors also chose regional settings at least one of them knew well.
- What community-wide events have you experienced where you live? What stories might you know about these events?
- What places in your community are important to you? Do any places inspire romance or other feelings of love?
Sketch out your characters. How many characters do you think is manageable for your group to write? What characters do you want to create? Ensure your characters each have different interests or activities, as that will give them unique voices.
Then, outline your story. Blackout’s chapters are individual stories—with the authors listed. In Whiteout, there is one central story that all the characters contribute to. As the authors shared at their National Book Festival appearance, Clayton led the process of negotiating which author would tackle different story types.
- What different kind of stories do you want to share? Not all love stories are romantic. List all the different “love stories” you can think of: intergenerational love between families, friendship, romance, “frenemies” turned love interest, secret crushes, and more! What interests you?
- What connects your characters? Are they loosely connected, or are do they each play a role in advancing one larger plot?
- What are your characters’ objectives or goals? What might prevent them from achieving what they want?
Revise and reflect. After taking some time apart to write, workshop your works-in-progress! Asking the following questions can guide a productive conversation about how your friends saw your writing.
- What popped? What details, phrases, or events especially resonated?
- What do you have questions about? Which parts were unclear?
- Do you have any suggestions or feedback?
Now, it’s time for revisions. Once you revise and are happy with your stories, it’s time to share with friends and family!
Nicole Yoon said at the National Book Festival, “We make fun of romance all the time as a culture […] But all books are actually about love.” Everyone deserves to feel seen in the love stories they read and write.
Other resources featuring BIPOC love and romance:
- National Book Festival Author Talk: Dhonielle Clayton
- Let’s Talk Comics: Romance- scroll to the bottom for a 1950 comic featuring Black love, as featured in the Headline & Heroes blog
- 2022 National Book Festival: Jason Reynolds Presents with Candice Iloh and Ebony LaDelle (focusing on Ebony LaDelle’s Love Radio)
- Meet Me in the Winner’s Circle with Donna Barbra Higuera, Darcie Little Badger, and Malinda Lo (featuring Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club and moderated by Dhonielle Clayton)