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The Hate U Give: Angie Thomas’s 2017 BGHB Fiction & Poetry Award Speech

I stand before you tonight, completely stunned that I’ve won anything for a book I was so afraid to write; a book that was inspired by someone as controversial as Tupac Shakur. I’m even more stunned that I wrote a book.

This is possibly blasphemous to say, but as a teen I hated reading. I realize now it’s because my stories were rarely told. I was rarely shown to be the hero or the object of affection. I was rarely made to feel validated through books.

I’m thankful for other art forms that showed me myself when this industry failed me. Hip hop, for one, gave me a voice. Tupac told me to keep my head up when books didn’t. Nas told my stories when books ignored them. I’m eternally grateful for those mirrors.

When I decided to write The Hate U Give, I wanted to write it for those kids who, like my younger self, don’t see themselves nearly as much as they should. Publishing had failed them. In some ways it continues to fail them as more people push back against our pleas to do our stories justice without harm.

But today as I accept this award, I come before you on behalf of teen Angie and all of the young people who are like her. I foolishly think that books can change our world. Therefore every person in this room has the ability to change our world. We do that not only by showing young people themselves but by showing them lives unlike their own.

I have to believe that if some of our current political leaders had read books at a young age about black youth, about Muslim youth, Latino youth, about LGBTQIA youth, maybe we wouldn’t have to say that Black Lives Matter. Maybe we wouldn’t have to fight bans. Maybe they wouldn’t consider building walls but instead they’d want to build bridges. Maybe equal rights wouldn’t be up for debate.

Today I urge every single person in this room to fight. Fight for books that create empathy. Fight for diversity in all aspects of our industry. Fight so that the next Angies won’t have to wait until adulthood to see themselves in a book. Fight so that in the near future, teachers won’t tell me stories about black girls who are stunned to see someone like them on a cover.

I’d like to thank the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards committee for this immense honor for a book I was afraid to write. Your blessing has encouraged me to write more books that I’m afraid to write.

Thank you to my phenomenal editor Donna Bray, who believed that a book about a black girl, featuring a black girl on the cover, was worth taking a chance on, and who believed and still believes in me. Donna, I am the luckiest author in the world to have you in my corner.

Thank you to my agent, Brooks Sherman, who saw magic in Starr (despite the fact that she doesn’t possess a wand) and who goes above and beyond for me. I’m eternally grateful to call you agent and friend.

And last but certainly not least, thank you to my mom, Julia Williams Thomas, who, had I raised my hand and volunteered as tribute, would have yanked it down and taken my place, changing the entire plot of the book, and who would’ve never let me date a guy as old as Edward. I love you.

I never wrote The Hate U Give to win awards. While I am thankful for this award, I’m even more thankful every single time a black girl reads my book, in awe that someone told her story. So thank you to every person who has put my book in those girls’ hands. Keep fighting for them. Keep writing for them. Keep publishing for them. By doing so, you tell them not only that their lives matter, but that their stories matter as well. And by doing that, you empower them to change the world.

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2017 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB17. Read our Five Questions with Angie Thomas.


To commemorate Black History Month, we are highlighting a series of articles, speeches, and reviews from The Horn Book archive that are by and/or about African American authors, illustrators, and luminaries in the field — one a day through the month of February, with a roundup on Fridays. Click the tag HBBlackHistoryMonth18 and look for #HBBlackHistoryMonth18 on Facebook.com/TheHornBook and @HornBook. You can find more resources about social justice and activism at our Talking About Race and Making a Difference resource pages.

The Horn Book celebrates Black History Month

Angie Thomas About Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas is the winner of the 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction and Poetry for The Hate U Give (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins).

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Comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    This is by far the best book I have ever read. Outstanding!

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