This post was written by Katya Soto, a former intern under the mentorship of Guy Lamolinara, Head, Center for the Book. Additional connections to Library collections were added by Alli Hartley-Kong, Educational Programs Specialist in the Informal Learning Office.
When Angie Thomas was six years old, her mother took her to her local public library after an act of neighborhood violence. The library offered physical shelter and safety, as well as a new kind of protection: books.
Tune in to this month’s Lit Bit with Angie Thomas as she discussed how hip-hop and rap connected her to books, and how that inspires her writing today.
Thomas built off her literary love of hip-hop and grew up to become a rapper and later a novelist. She is most well-known for her 2017 novel, “The Hate U Give,” which debuted at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list before it was adapted as a movie in 2018. Thomas attended the virtual 2021 National Book Festival and spoke with Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden about “Concrete Rose.” The clip above is excerpted from the full video, which is available here.
In her full talk, Thomas reflected on her upbringing in Mississippi and how her state’s unique history influenced her decision to become a novelist. “I’m thankful for these experiences. I’m thankful for these stories. I’m thankful for the fact that I can learn from the past and hopefully craft stories that help my young readers create a better future,” Thomas said. Her stories help to illustrate the tumultuous reality that many children growing up in under-resourced communities face, and at times mirror some of her own experiences.
Thomas mentioned that she is “… a firm believer that books can create empathy and that empathy is more powerful than sympathy.” She aspires to motivate the next generation of young authors by advising them to “Read books; that’s the best way to learn how to write.”
As well as listening to Thomas’ 2021 National Book Festival talk, you can extend your family’s look at her work by exploring connections in the Library’s collections. As Laura Berberian in Research and Reference Services points out at the end of the full video, several books in the Library’s collection connect to Thomas’s life and work, such as Hip Hop Speaks to Children, A Celebration of Poetry With a Beat.
Thomas reflects that the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers greatly affected her mother’s life. Older children and teens might be interested in how his activism helped chip away at school segregation, and how his wife Myrlie Evers-Williams’ commitment to Civil Rights extended the work of Medgers’ too-brief life. Resources available online include those linked in the following Library blog posts: Medgar Evers: A Hero in Life and Death, and The Legacy of Medgar Evers through the NAACP Records.
If you’d like to find out more about Thomas and her work, be sure to check out her other appearances on Library stages. She first appeared at the National Book Festival in 2017 to discuss “The Hate U Give”. In 2022, the collaboratively-written novel “Blackout” was the subject of this all-star panel moderated by Librarian of Congress Dr. Hayden. Thomas was unable to be at that event, although she did join the rest of her collabo-writers in October of 2022 for a program with local Washington D.C. students centering on Blackout’s sequel, “Whiteout”. You can watch with the young people in your life here, and complete the activities in this blog post to connect further.