“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.

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