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Five questions for 2017 Fiction and Poetry winner Angie Thomas

1. You shared on Twitter that in manuscript stage you wondered how this book’s subject matter would be received (“Are novels that deal with sensitive current issues a no-no?”). How much was that concern on your mind when you were first writing, and how did it affect your writing process?

AT: Initially, it was a big concern of mine, so much so that I was afraid to write the story. But once I put those fears aside and decided to write it for myself, it became a much easier process. I didn’t think about those concerns anymore until I was ready to submit the book to agents.

2. Did you know going in that Tupac’s THUG LIFE would be the story’s framework, or did that come to you as you were writing?

AT: I knew going in that Thug Life would play a huge role in the framework of the story. I’ve always wanted to explore the meaning of the acronym, particularly the “Thug” part. So often, that word is used to describe young black men, even when they are victims. I loved how Tupac took something that is usually used negatively and gave it a deeper meaning. That’s what I hope to do as a writer — take the negatives and explore them beyond the surface.

3. From the neighborhood to the school and even the police station, there are no cardboard characters; readers can imagine a full back story for each and every one. How did you maintain such a nonjudgmental authorial voice?

AT: One of my biggest influences as a writer is J. K. Rowling. I grew up with Harry Potter. One thing I absolutely loved was how every single person in Harry’s world was so three-dimensional — it was as if each one was the main character in his or her own story and was just making a guest appearance in Harry’s story. I strive to do that as a writer. I want every side character to be the main character of his or her own story.

4. Your bio says you’re “a former teen rapper [who] holds a BFA in creative writing and can still rap if needed.” Do you still perform? Will you at the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards ceremony? 🙂

AT: Ha ha! I don’t perform, unfortunately. Trust me, you do not want me to perform at the ceremony.

5. What do you hope people take away from Starr’s story?

AT: That empathy is more powerful than sympathy.

From the June 2017 issue of The Horn Book Herald. Click here for a list of past BGHB winners and honorees. For book reviews, acceptance speeches, and more, click on the tags Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards or BGHB17.

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