“Blackout” Brings Black Teen Romance to the NBF

“Blackout,” the hit YA romance novel of interlinked stories written by six Black authors, is coming to the National Book Festival’s main stage.

It’s sure to be one of the festival’s highlights, as the event will put five of those authors on one stage: Dhonielle  Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Ashley Woodfolk and Nicola Yoon. They’ll be onstage Saturday, Sept. 3, from 4-5 p.m., and the event will be livestreamed. They’ll be signing books starting at 5:30. (Coauthor Angie Thomas will not be able to join the presentation, alas.)

“Blackout,” set during a power outage in New York, takes readers on a tour of the city and of young Black couples in various stages of romance. All of their stories are interrelated, and they’re all trying to get to a party in Brooklyn. “Even Love Stories Can Glow When the Lights Go” is the book’s tag line and the key to the book’s heartwarming point of view.

The collaboration, born during the pandemic shutdown, is the brainchild of Clayton, an executive at the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books; an author (“Tiny Pretty Things”); and a former librarian (!). She drew in friends and collaborators to tell an upbeat set of stories during a difficult time, picking authors who had a finger on the pulse of Black teens and who each wrote with a unique voice. She wanted the result to be a “celebration.”

“It’s our love letter to Black love, to Black kids and to New York City,” she said. “I wanted to also show them that they are worthy of love no matter what they look like and who they are …. We wanted to write our own love letter to them and say, ‘Hey, your love is valid.’ ”

The result was a bestseller that is now in development for adaptation as a six-part anthology at Netflix, powered by Higher Ground, the production company formed by Barack and Michelle Obama. Netflix’s summary: “When the lights go out and people reveal hidden truths, love blossoms, friendships transform, and all possibilities take flight.”

It was so much fun to put together that the group will be back on bookshelves in November with “Whiteout,” another set of linked teen romances, this time set during an Atlanta snowstorm.

Yoon, who has written bestsellers that also were turned into films, such as “Everything Everything” and “The Sun is Also a Star,” said the joint project was a nice break from the solitary experience of a novelist.

“Usually you’re alone in your little cave,” she said. “But I got to write with these women who are so remarkably talented, and we share a point of view of the world, especially on Black love.”

Jackson, born and raised in New York and author of “Allegedly” and “Monday’s Not Coming,” provided some of the city-specific detail that makes the Big Apple seem “magical.”

“It was important for us to hit all the staples where I remember being in love,” she said. “I remember being in love sitting in front of the library. I remember being in love on the subway.”

Those stories and more, coming your way at the NBF.

“The All-Stars of ‘Blackout’ ” will be on the main stage of the National Book Festival Saturday, Sept. 3, from 4-5 p.m. They will each be signing books beginning at 5:30.

Just in Time for the National Book Festival, it’s Leslie Jordan!

Leslie Jordan, the Emmy Award winning comic actor turned Instagram star turned author, brings his “How Y’all Doing?” to the National Book Festival. His short video riffs on being short, Southern and gay have charmed millions of viewers since he started posting them during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 67-year-old has more than 100 film and television credits, including turns on hit series such as “Will and Grace” and “American Horror Story.” He’s currently starring in “Call Me Kat” with Mayim Bialik.

25 Years Later, “Tuesdays with Morrie” Still Resonates

Mitch Albom, the sportswriter and novelist, sits down at the National Book Festival to talk about the 25th anniversary of “Tuesdays with Morrie,” his 1997 memoir that has sold more than 17 million copies, been turned into a movie and a stage play and been published in more than 45 countries. Albom has gone on to write a string of No. 1 bestselling novels, each drawing on religious faith and inspiration. His latest, “The Stranger in the Lifeboat,” was published late last year.

Tom Thumb’s Wedding Cake…Still at the Library, 159 Years Later

Among the oddest items in the Llibrary of Congress is a slice of cake from the glamorous wedding of General Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) and Lavinia Warren, at New York’s Metropolitan Hotel in 1863. The wedding was the social event of the season, with thousands in attendance. Stratton was, at the time, a major star for promotor P.T. Barnum, drawing on his dimunitive height of 35 inches as an attraction. The Library still has the the slice of cake, now nearly 160 years old.

Hair! At the Library? Yes, and Lots of It

One of the Library’s most unusual holdings is hair — lots of it. The Library has locks and tresses and strands from people in the arts such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Walt Whitman and Edna St. Vincent Millay; presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, James Madison and Ulysses S. Grant; and any number of famous women, including Lucy Webb Hayes (first lady and spouse of President Rutherford B. Hayes); Confederate spy Antonia Ford Willard; Clare Boothe Luce and unidentified hair from Clara Barton’s diary. Nearly all of the hair stems from the 18th and 19th centuries, in the era before photographs were common and lockets of hair were seen as tokens that could be anything from romantic to momentous.

Lamont Dozier, Legendary Motown Songwriter and National Recording Registry Member, Dies at 81

  Lamont Dozier, one third of Motown’s key hit-writing team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, has died at 81. It’s difficult to imagine the soundtrack of the 1960s without him. I chatted with him earlier this year, when the trio’s “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” was inducted into the 2022 class of the National Recording Registry. Here’s the story […]

W.E.B. DuBois and The Brownies’ Book

Writer, scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois recognized the need for young African Americans to see themselves and their concerns reflected in print. The Brownies’ Book, a monthly magazine for the “Children of the Sun … designed for all children, but especially for ours,” was his response. Du Bois aimed to instill and reinforce pride in Black youth and to help Black families as they raised children in a segregated and prejudiced world. The Library has digitical copies of each magazine online.

Bill Russell: In His Own Words

Bill Russell, the legendary basketball player and civil rights stalwart who died Sunday at the age of 88, filmed an unforgettable conversation for the Civil Rights History Project, an oral history production by the Library and the Smithsonian Museum of African American History, in 2013. It’s three hours and was conducted by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Branch. What comes through strongest is the rock-solid voice of Bill Russell, American icon, who learned from his grandfather to “don’t take nothing from nobody.”