How Hip Hop Serves as a NYT Bestselling Author’s Muse

Angie Thomas’ love of Hip Hop fueled her passion for storytelling, and just like the rappers she admires have sought to perfect their art form, she has sought – and succeeded – at doing the same.

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Bestselling author Angie Thomas

Her debut novel is her evidence, and when the movie version of the book hits the big screen in October 2018, her desire to give voice and humanity to a sector of Americans who often feel they have neither is expected to reach fever pitch.

Thomas is the bestselling author of the award-winning New York Times bestselling young adult novel The Hate U Give.  In addition to reaching the No. 1 spot on the New York Times list, the book is being sold in more than 40 nations, and Thomas has traveled the globe to expound upon its themes, including the narrative that Black Lives Matter and that every child deserves to be heard and valued.

In late July 2018, several hundred residents of metro Richmond, Virginia – including teens, librarians, book club members, readers and writers of all backgrounds and ages, and me – converged onIMG_0713 the Chesterfield County Public Library‘s North Courthouse Branch to see Thomas and hear wit, wisdom and words of encouragement pour from her lips.

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Angie Thomas spoke at the Chesterfield County Public Library North Courthouse Branch

Time seemed to stand still during her 90-minute talk as she mesmerized the audience with the story – her story – of being a 6-year-old girl reading Jet magazine (which she called that era’s “Facebook for black people”) in her home and stumbling upon the picture of Emmett Till in his casket – an image her mother took time to explain in depth, leaving Thomas with the message to “know your worth, but know that not everyone values you the way I do, simply because of the color of your skin.”

She also shared her memory of being an 8-year-old enjoying the swing set in her not-so-safe neighborhood park when she heard Hip Hop lyrics for the first time, in the verses of  Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s The Message, which described the very reality of her hard-knock life. Then, there was her pivotal memory of seeing the late Tupac Shakur for the first time, in news coverage that cast him as a rebellious yet intelligent rapper. Soon after, she heard his music and his commentary, including the explanation for his THUG LIFE tattoo: The Hate U Give Little Infants F—s Everybody.  “Meaning (that) what society gives us as youth, bites (society) when we wild out,” Thomas explained during her talk.

While acknowledging the downsides of Hip Hop – its often controversial and profanity-laden lyrics and many verses that disparage females – Thomas still gave a nod to the musical genre for waking up generations of people who often feel invisible, forgotten and frustrated, and helping them (including her) find their voice.

Throughout her childhood in Jackson, Mississippi, she heard stories of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who was assassinated in his own front yard, not far from where she lived; and in 2015, as the reality of Florida teen Trayvon Martin‘s killer being acquitted of murder stunned her spirit, so did her desire to become a social justice warrior.

Rather than pick up the weapons she so despised for their role in harming people of color, she decided to model the rappers she had long revered and use her words as her sword. The Hate U Give was born as a short story for a college senior project, then grew into the novel we know today.

Thomas’ captive Chesterfield County library audience thanked her for her willingness to write a story that scared her; and one Caucasian middle school student asked for advice on how she could encourage her friends and classmates to read the book and try to understand kids who differ from them in some way.

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Angie Thomas during Q&A

Thomas told her to keep being herself – a brave “book recommender” – and serving as an ambassador for what it looks like to be accepting of others.

It’s a path that Thomas is determined to continue walking, with each new story she births and each new audience she introduces to her personal experience of being a little girl who had everything going against her until she heard herself reflected in lyrics (musical storytelling) that legitimatized her existence.

Because she believes “books can change the world,” Thomas intends to be that light for a whole new generation of young minds – whether they read her novels, watch her movie, hear her speak or encounter others who have been transformed by the messages in her words.

Her library talk was an invitation to everyone in the audience to individually and collectively become literary citizens who create meaningful paths to knowledge, understanding and connectedness.

Stacy Hawkins Adams

One Mother’s Journey: Pacing vs. Racing – Taking Time to be Kind to Yourself

By Guest Blogger C.A. Morgan

Fame isn’t my forte. But neither is obscurity.

What am I good at? Well…

As an artist, author, vocalist and Top Chef wannabe, I am quite the Renaissance woman, not to tweet my own tune. My friends will tell you: I do it all. (Thanks, friends!) But ask my family a few years back and they’d claim I was best at being Mean & Ornery & Hard to Get Along With. MOHGAW for short.

I can’t help it; it’s in my blood.

I never wanted to emulate my mother, though she is pretty sweet these days. As a stay-at-home mom of nine children who gave up her dream of becoming a nurse, Mom made MOHGAW her motto. I craved a family, but also to develop and share my own gifts with the world. Anything less seemed like a cop-out.

Once a bright-eyed collegiate turned ambitious young adult, I planned to become the next C.S. Lewis/Beatrix Potter combined. I moved east with great expectations and – blink! – somehow found myself married with four young children, struggling to not disappear under piles of dirty dishes and laundry.

While I love my kids, parenting well is demanding work. I began to understand – and resemble – my mom as I despaired ever achieving my career goals. Oh, the mom-guilt! Why couldn’t being the best possible homemaker satisfy my needs? Why must I want it all?

Still…I did, and it showed.

Deciding I could no longer wait for the perfect circumstances (there is no such thing), with our two oldest in school and portfolio, toddler and swaddled infant in hand, I met with a local author who generously agreed to mentor me. For the next several years, while trying to keep family my priority, I wrote and scrupulously edited the first book of my YA fantasy trilogy. To contribute financially, I went to work part-time teaching music at my children’s school. (How better to share that gift than by passing it on to the next generation?)

I created and donated art for charity, and kept up an illustrated parenting blog to encourage other moms while providing self-therapy. Life was fulfilling, exhausting…and totally unsustainable as we welcomed our bonus baby.

MOHGAW Momster reawakened.

Thankfully, and long before Oprah Winfrey put the sentiment into words, I had an epiphany: It really is possible to have it all, just not all at once. I was cheating everyone by trying. Pace myself and I might actually enjoy the life I already had, while creating the one I dreamed of.

Granting that permission to slow down was the kindest thing I’ve ever done – for myself and everyone around me. Skip ahead: Thirteen years since penning that first novel – the year after my firstborn graduated high school – it was published. Two more children left for college, and I gave birth to two more volumes. More are coming, all in good time.

And I’m not so MOHGAW anymore. Just ask my family.

Author C.A. Morgan

C.A. Morgan, author of Emrysia: The Three Sisters Trilogy (Emrysia Awakening, Lament & Endurance) is a lifelong learner and champion dream chaser who loves to encourage others to contribute what only they may to the world. From northern Michigan to remote mountainside in Vermont’s northeast kingdom, she is equally at home on stage or in her garden, and is currently sharing the gift of music in a hospice choir, and completing illustrations for her children’s book on the fears associated with diagnostic testing. She and husband, Roger, are enjoying a quieter house these days, raising their belated blessing with occasional unsolicited advice from her adult siblings. To learn more visit her online at: www.camorganwrites.com, facebook.com/reademrysia, and twitter@camorganwrites.

Video Viewpoint: How Storytelling Helps You Grow

Whether personally or professionally, may this brief video inspire you to write a vision, life strategy, book, blog post, journal entry or essay about your experiences and set a new resolve to thrive.

 

Why I Love: Librarians

Throughout this week I’ve read quite a few posts on my various social media feeds about exciting national librarian conferences and about funding issues related to school librarians.

The conversations and concerns reminded me of Mrs. Horn, the sweet, silver-haired librarian at Sam Taylor Elementary School in my native Arkansas.

When she discovered my voracious appetite for reading and saw me zip through books in record time, she took this shy 2nd grader under her wing and not only helped me discover chapter books and excellent authors, but also challenged me to read books that stretched my imagination.


I didn’t get all of the nuances of the novel “Heidi” as a 7-year-old, but that didn’t really matter. What mattered was that Mrs.Horn thought I should try; and as a result, I’ve been nudging myself ever since to try new things, to push past my comfort zone, to be willing to make sense of experiences different from my own, while celebrating and valuing my own.


These days, I try my best to write from that place, too. (One of my first attempts was in 4th grade, when my teacher, Mrs. Owens, let me write our class play, which my classmates willingly performed.)

Thank you, Mrs. Horn (and Mrs. Owens) for being among my many elementary school champions. Your efforts helped shape my memories and my foundation.

What about you? On whose shoulders do you stand? What simple acts of kindness or unsung gestures helped shaped you for good?

Take a few minutes to reflect on this, then if possible, find those heroes or “sheroes” and say thanks. Regardless of whether you reconnect with them, you can honor them by paying forward their generosity of spirit.
~ Stacy Hawkins Adams

CCO Use

Chat with the Author: Combining Cultural Lore with Faith & Love is Her Heartsong

Meet Unoma Nwankwor, the bestselling author of seven Christian romance fiction titles. Her readers are in love with her unique way of telling stories that capture the essence of her present home base  – Atlanta, Georgia – and her native Nigerian culture. Her stories  center on forgiveness, faith and hope, and have been described as the perfect fusion of those elements, combined with just enough romance and African spice to keep readers turning pages.
What are the titles of your most recent books? My most recent title is Mended with Love (released October 2017). It is the third book in my Sons of Ishmael Series. Another recent release is The Final Ultimatum (October 2016), and it is the long-awaited stand-alone sequel to my 2013 novella The Christmas Ultimatum.
What is your primary goal as an author? My goal is to entertain and edify, while educating my readers about the continent of Africa – especially my home country of Nigeria. The media shows what they want to about the continent; so being that I love my Jesus, a good happily ever after, and my home, all three are always prominent in my books. After reading one of my books, I want my readers’ appetite whet for Jesus. I want them to have had a good time and to know something about Africa they didn’t know before. Or correct something they thought they knew.
What has been the most surprising feedback you’ve received from readers about your work? In The Final Ultimatum, the main characters are from Nigeria and South Africa. When I started to write the novel, I decided to incorporate a hot issue currently causing a rift between the two countries: xenophobia [which is the intense or irrational fear of people from other countries]. My readers didn’t see that coming. They were intrigued by the issue, but also marveled at how I didn’t allow the heaviness of the topic overshadow the couple’s story.
What has been the most surprising aspect of your author journey? I wouldn’t call it surprising; humbling would be the word I’d use. That moment for me would be [realizing] the acceptance of my American audience. I initially let the fear of no one caring about what I wrote or what I had to say  stop me. However, I [eventually decided] that I couldn’t write anything other than the stories I had in me to tell. Since that time, in 2012, not writing has no longer been an option. I went with what I know. So the acceptance of something different by readers humbles me daily.
How do you  nurture your growth as a writer? I read at least one craft book every quarter. I also have a broad variety of genres I read.
Who are two or three writers you admire or consider mentors? I admire and consider [bestselling Christian fiction author] Pat Simmons a mentor. There are a host of others I admire, too numerous to mention.
If you weren’t an author, what else would you be doing? I’m also passionate about helping “Christianprenuers”  move past the stagnation of uncertainty while on their purpose journey. Sometimes we get stuck or weary when the dark seasons arise. I enjoy encouraging others to push through their process while glowing in the dark.
What do you like to do for fun?  Go to movies with my family.
More about Unoma Nwankwor: Unoma Nwankwor is the author of seven fiction titles. Her work fuses faith, romance and African culture. In 2015, she was the recipient of the Nigerian Writers’ Award for Best Faith-Based Fiction Writer. In late 2016, she was shortlisted for the Diaspora Writer of the Year award for 2017. Unoma holds a B.S. degree in banking & finance and a mastimageer’s degree in global management. She is a champion of purpose, passionate about pushing women Christianprenuers past the stagnation of uncertainty by building confident expectations in the promises of God. Unoma was also recently named as one of the “100 Most Influential Nigerian Writers Under 40”  and is also the host of the Anchor Talk Podcast. Visit her at www.unomanwankwor.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/UnomaNwankwor or on Twitter and Instagram via the handle @unwankwor.

We are Watercolored Pearls – In Honor of #NationalPoetryDay

I’m not a poet, but every now and then I dabble. Since today is National Poetry Day I’ll share a piece I wrote in 2014, to reveal at a brunch I hosted to celebrate the power of women’s stories – women like you and me.
Read on, and be inspired…

Writing from and for the Journey

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

I haven’t turned on my creative fiction juices in a while, because although I absolutely love manufacturing interesting characters and breathing life into them, I also have a deep love for nonfiction writing. Over the past year or so, I’ve focused my attention there.

I recently entered my 10th year of penning a parenting column for a daily newspaper in Richmond, Virginia; I launched this inspirational blog a few moths ago, and I occasionally write commentary for the Huffington Post.

Beyond those outlets, my “day job” of serving as Director of Communications for a private school in my community affords me an opportunity to do all kinds of writing – from marketing and advertising copy to social media posts to letters and other messaging that share the “how” and “why” of this school and its mission to produce service-minded leaders who make a difference locally and around the globe. All of this excites me.

And yet….the ideas for a new novel still rise to the surface every now and then, teasing me to consider what my 11th book could and should be. I’m not sure yet when that one will be birthed, but I already have a list of character names, a few potential plot ideas and even a tentative title.

I’m not ready to start writing the first draft because the ideas are still “baking.” I’ll know when the plot is just firm enough to put pen to paper, and then move those handwritten notes to my computer.

In the meantime, I’m doing my writer’s “homework”: Leaning into the gifts and opportunities that come with daily life, enjoying special moments with family and friends, overhearing compelling conversations or intriguing names that might make their way into my story, and taking in the scenery, sights and sounds around me, so that when I need these things most, they are a finger tap away in the notes section of my iPhone, or stored in my mental image bank.

I recently had the pleasure of joining an award-winning children’s author for dinner, and during our conversation, Newberry Medal winner Rita Williams-Garcia announced that she no longer writes under deadline. When the manuscript is ready – however long that may take – she intuitively knows, and she only writes The End at that point.

While many of us scribes may not have that luxury – or be disciplined enough to know the difference between being stuck and accepting that the project is substantive enough to move forward – learning about her method left me thinking that more of us should find the courage (or be extended opportunities) to give our words, ideas and stories the space to grow and mushroom into something fantastically wonderful.

If and when you can, I encourage my fellow writers to let your story marinate; let the words come on their own; let the characters show you who they are in their own time.

Because I’m not on deadline or under contract with a publisher at the moment, this is exactly what I’m doing. I’m also reading some great fiction, and books about the art of writing, along the way.

It’s an unsettling experience in some ways – especially when my readers say they’re ready for another book-  and I hate to keep readers waiting. Yet, in another way, it’s freeing, because I’m allowing the writer journey to unfold before me.

I’m confident that when my new characters are ready to meet the world, they’ll let me know. When they start nudging, I won’t be able to get them out of my head unless I tell their stories! Lol

Until then, I hope you’ll continue reading my current novels, the few fictional short stories I’ll be penning soon, and also my body of nonfiction writing. The mission of all of my work is to enlighten, uplift and inspire. I hope my fictional characters and my intriguing true-to-life subjects do just that for you.

Note: This essay was originally published on the Black Christian Reads blog, in July 2017.