Interview: Author Angie Thomas Talks 'On The Come Up,' : It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders It's Tuesday. Sam chats with Angie Thomas, author of the best-selling young adult novel 'The Hate U Give' about her new book, 'On The Come Up.' They talk about both her books, about proving there's a huge audience for the black experience in young adult literature, and about moving on up — and why it's complicated. Email samsanders@npr.org or tweet @NPRItsBeenAMin with feels.
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Author Angie Thomas Writes To 'Mirror' Young, Black Readers

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Author Angie Thomas Writes To 'Mirror' Young, Black Readers

Author Angie Thomas Writes To 'Mirror' Young, Black Readers

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SAM SANDERS, HOST:

Angie Thomas came from one of the worst neighborhoods in Jackson, Miss.

ANGIE THOMAS: All of us know about that one neighborhood in every major city - it's known for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately - where you know you don't go there unless you have to go there.

SANDERS: But things have changed for her. She met a literary agent on Twitter. Then she wrote a little bestseller called "The Hate U Give." She's a big deal now, and she's adjusting to a very different life.

A THOMAS: Because I bought a house, and I put my mom in the house with me. And even though I pay the mortgage, she'll get on me about my room. And I'm looking at her as I say it.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Mom, you want to go on the mic? I have to give her a chance to offer some rebuttal. Come on, Mom.

JULIA THOMAS: She's talking about looking at me. I'm looking at her, too.

A THOMAS: Because my room is a mess right now.

J THOMAS: (Laughter) Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVAN'S "FLICKER")

SANDERS: From NPR, I'm Sam Sanders. IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. My guest today is Angie Thomas. She is the author, as I said previously, of "The Hate U Give," the No. 1 New York Times bestselling young adult novel. This book tells the story of Starr Carter, a 16-year-old girl grappling with the death of a friend who was shot and killed, while unarmed, by a police officer.

Now Angie Thomas is out with her second book. It's called "On The Come Up." This one's all about a young girl named Bri who wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. But then one of her songs goes viral in a very unexpected way. Angie and I talked about both of those books, about how she has proven there's actually an audience, a huge audience, for black stories in young adult literature. And we talk about how she's moved on up, and why that's a bit complicated for her. All right. Here's Angie Thomas and me. Angie was with her mom, who was mostly there just to listen. They were in Jackson, Miss. Enjoy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVAN'S "FLICKER")

SANDERS: You write these epic rap battle scenes in the book, and I haven't, like, been transported into the feel of a rap battle that expertly since, like, "8 Mile."

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: It was really good.

A THOMAS: Thank you.

SANDERS: And I kept thinking the whole time - I was like, I bet you Angie Thomas has been in her own rap battle before. You must have been, right? That's all I kept thinking.

A THOMAS: (Laughter) Well, OK, here's the thing. First, I'm so happy you brought up the whole "8 Mile" thing because that was, like, a influence on me when I was writing the book.

SANDERS: Really?

A THOMAS: In fact, I named the gym where they go to battle - I named it Jimmy's because that was the name of Eminem's character in "8 Mile." So that was, like, my way of paying homage to that. Yeah (laughter).

SANDERS: That's such a good movie. That movie - like, I have mixed feelings about Eminem, but that movie...

A THOMAS: That movie...

SANDERS: ...Still slaps.

(LAUGHTER)

A THOMAS: Yes. That movie is a classic. But I personally didn't battle battle when I was a teen. I was a rapper when I was a teenager, but I wasn't really good at it.

(LAUGHTER)

A THOMAS: I can admit that now. When I would do, like, rap battles - I wouldn't even really call them battles because I would go - and it was supposed to be freestyles, but I would be doing stuff that I already wrote, you know. Or sometimes I would...

SANDERS: Which is a no-no, right?

A THOMAS: Right. That's a no-no. Pre-written is a no-no. So I hoped that with writing these scenes and with showing people the ins and outs of it and the internal part of it, of coming up with freestyles on the spot, that maybe - just maybe more people would respect it as an art form, you know. But I can't do it.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: But you are, like, kind of writing some songs in the book. Like, you - OK, so this kid that Bri battles, he kind of has this minor hit in the neighborhood called "Swaggerific" (ph). And the way you write out the lyrics, it makes me think that you've actually written a song in your head called "Swaggerific." And I'm not going to ask you to sing it, but I am going to ask you to sing it.

(LAUGHTER)

A THOMAS: It's - you know, the thing about "Swaggerific" is that it's a simple song. And the thing is, so many of these hit songs are simple, you know. I'm not going to call anything out, but if you really pay attention to some of these songs, it's literally just, like - a hook is just one word or a couple of words being repeated over and over and over. So with "Swaggerific," I was just following that, that - I don't want to call it mumble rap, but...

SANDERS: You can call it mumble rap (laughter).

A THOMAS: OK. Yeah, mumble rap, too. You know, they follow a certain rhythm. So "Swaggerific" was just following that. It goes, (rapping) Swaggerific, so call me terrific. Swaggerific. Swaggerific. Hey. Swag. Swag.

SANDERS: Hey. Get it. Get it.

A THOMAS: Now, if this becomes an actual song, I'm going to just...

(LAUGHTER)

A THOMAS: I will quit being an author if that becomes an actual song.

SANDERS: You better give me a producer credit.

A THOMAS: Right. Right.

SANDERS: I'm kidding. I'm kidding.

(LAUGHTER)

A THOMAS: But you know - and then, too, with the title song, you know, "On The Come Up." (Rapping) You can't stop me on the come up. You can't stop me on the come up.

That's following that whole thing, too, that we see now. It's a certain rhythm that rappers follow with hooks and everything. So yeah, I was just paying attention to what's going on. But I try to just stay in the know, and I listen a lot to young people. I think as a writer you have to listen to the people you're writing about. So I listen a lot.

SANDERS: Yeah. Where do you find these youths to listen to?

A THOMAS: (Laughter).

SANDERS: I realize many days - like, there's some days where I don't interact with young people, you know, because, like, I'm at work, and I'm at home, and I'm with friends.

A THOMAS: Well, you know what? I get a whole lot of interactions through social media, especially Instagram. You know, I've come to realize, like, Facebook, that's where I talk to the teachers and librarians who love the book. You know, Twitter is, like, the - they're not as old, but they're not teenagers. And then Instagram, that's where the teenagers are, you know.

(LAUGHTER)

A THOMAS: They come into my DMs, or they comment on my posts and things like that.

SANDERS: Really?

A THOMAS: And then even at my signings and stuff. Like, once it was announced that my new book was about a rapper, I've had so many kids who've come to me at my signings, and they're like, I'm a rapper. Can I rap for you, Miss Angie? And I'll let them do it, you know. I got to let them do it.

SANDERS: Aw. Really?

A THOMAS: I'm going to start posting them on my page if they give - if their parents give permission. But it's - if nothing else, I get to interact with them and talk with them while on the road and stuff. So I absolutely love it because I'm glad to know that they feel like I speak for them. I think as a writer, as a young adult author, my biggest fear is that at some point I'm going to become the old lady writing books and trying to act cool. But right now, they think I'm cool, so we're good.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Stay with that. I also love that you are letting young people know that rap and reading the book can go hand in hand and often do, you know.

A THOMAS: Absolutely.

SANDERS: I think that's there is, for some - for some who don't get it and who don't get hip-hop, there's this perception that rap is something other than intellectual, when in fact it's actually very, very, very much that. And I like that you are saying, oh, here's this accomplished author that will also listen to your mixtape.

A THOMAS: Yes (laughter). Absolutely.

SANDERS: I'm into it.

A THOMAS: You know, I often say, you know, my biggest literary influences are rappers. I want to write the way that rappers rap. You know, they were telling the stories I saw myself in when I was a kid when books didn't. And the reason that so many young people gravitate towards hip-hop is because it keeps it real with them. You know, it keeps it 100 with them, as they say. It's authentic. It's raw. It doesn't hold back. And as a writer, I need to do the same thing with them, or they will call me out, you know.

You know why so many kids flocked to "The Hate U Give?" was because it was getting banned left and right in schools. And when you're telling kids that this is something that we don't think you're ready for, that's the very thing that they feel they are ready for.

SANDERS: Yeah. And then they want it more.

A THOMAS: Exactly. Exactly. So I definitely feel like it goes hand in hand in that sense, that if I'm going to write for them, I want to write the same way that a rapper would rap to them.

SANDERS: Speaking of rap, your new book, which I'm devouring, "On The Come Up" - how much of a description of this book can you tell all of your listeners, our listeners, without, like, spoilers?

A THOMAS: Yeah, sure. "On The Come Up" - I always have to say this at the beginning - it's not a sequel or a spinoff to "The Hate U Give." I get a lot of questions about, am I doing a sequel? I have no plans for a sequel right now because I think Starr needs a break from me.

(LAUGHTER)

A THOMAS: But it is set in the same neighborhood as "The Hate U Give." And it is about a 16-year-old girl named Brianna who wants to be a rapper. And her life is turned upside down when, one, her mom unexpectedly loses her job, and, two, a song she makes goes viral for all the wrong reasons, and she finds herself in the center of a controversy that's too big for her to control. But because of the fact that she's a young black person in America, she's not given national interviews to make herself seem innocent. She's seen as a villain in this narrative. But as her family's situation gets worse, she finds herself desperate to make it, even if it means becoming the very thing people have made her out to be.

SANDERS: So this book is set in the same neighborhood as your first book, "The Hate U Give" - Garden Heights. Describe that neighborhood for us, and then tell me why you chose the same neighborhood but a different character and a different plot for this new book.

A THOMAS: Garden Heights is loosely based on the neighborhood where I grew up here in Jackson, Miss. Garden Heights is that neighborhood that - all of us know about that one neighborhood in every major city where you know you don't go there. You know, every city has at least one neighborhood where you don't go there unless you have to go there. I decided to return there for a couple of reasons. For one, for me, it feels so much like home because, like I was saying, it's based on my own neighborhood. But after the events of "The Hate U Give," I thought it was important to return to this neighborhood.

You know, we saw what happened at the end of "The Hate U Give" with the community and the uprising in response to Khalil's murder. But when we see these things happen in real life, nobody really takes the time to find out, well, what's the neighborhood like now? You know, what's Ferguson like now? And it felt very fitting to go back there, too, and to start Bri's story in the aftermath of Khalil.

I often compare Bri to hip-hop itself, you know, and hip-hop started, you know, in the Bronx, after the Bronx burnings when there was so much chaos in that borough. And so now we're in Garden Heights after so much chaos in this neighborhood, and this young lady has managed to find her voice through an art form, just like those kids in the Bronx did back in the '70s. So it just felt fitting to return there and find someone who is figuring out how to use their voice to make themselves heard.

SANDERS: Yeah. What I love about "On The Come Up" and what I love about Bri and her story, like, it's as much about her story and how she sees the world as it is about the way the rest of the world sees Bri, this young, talented person of color, young woman who is obviously gifted but, like, very misunderstood. And you also write about how, like, her entire neighborhood is misunderstood, particularly in the aftermath of some rioting that takes place in Garden Heights. There's this line you have that just stopped me in my tracks, when you were describing how this kind of community is treated after a police-involved shooting. You said it was like having a stranger come in your house, steal one of your kids and blame you for it because your family was dysfunctional, while the whole world judges you for being upset. Man.

A THOMAS: Yeah (laughter).

SANDERS: (Laughter).

A THOMAS: Yeah. Yeah.

SANDERS: Do you feel that way about - I don't know - the news and things in the news tied to some of the stuff that you tackle, you know, in this book and the previous one?

A THOMAS: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, I think for so many of us the frustrating part is that when these incidents happen, the blame immediately goes to the communities or to the families or even the victims themselves. You know, I think Trayvon Martin is blamed for his own death by more people than George Zimmerman is blamed for it.

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

A THOMAS: And you wonder, why is this? Why is it that particularly black people are always found at fault when we're really the victims in so many of these instances? So yeah, that line, that comes from me myself. But I also hope that it makes people think about why is it that black people are never given the benefit of the doubt.

SANDERS: Yeah.

A THOMAS: Why is it that we're always blamed even when we're victims? What does that say about this country and about us as a society?

SANDERS: And the thing I wonder with that, it's like, all right. We're - what? - five or six years into the Black Lives Matter movement. And there are some days when I question if that movement has changed any of that sentiment that you just spoke of. Like, is the way some people want to see black suffering - has it been changed at all by all the protests, by all the marches, by all the movement? I don't know some days. You know? It's...

A THOMAS: It's hard for me to say.

SANDERS: Really?

A THOMAS: Yeah, it is. It's hard for...

SANDERS: Because it's like I want to be encouraged, but I don't know. Do you think it's getting better?

A THOMAS: You know, I think what's happening right now is that we're in such a time of turmoil that so many of these stories are being lost in the headlines. When you have, you know, political leaders who are serving fast food to football players, that becomes the headline, not the young, black - unarmed black person who was killed by a cop. That's no longer the headlines now. People are - we're - people are distracted by shenanigans, you know? So...

SANDERS: Yeah.

A THOMAS: But then, on the same - at the same time, I'm seeing some changes. You know, I can say personally I've seen changes. I've had a chance to tour the world because of "The Hate U Give." And I've talked to people around the world about the Black Lives Matter movement and things like that. And the fact that I had, you know, like, a 90-year-old white woman who came to me in tears at a signing, and she told me she loved the book and she gets it now, that gives me hope. But on a large scale, it feels at times like, as a society, we haven't made much - we haven't made many changes.

SANDERS: Yeah. You know, I was thinking a lot about how you want to position your work in your books in that push for change. I had the most interesting conversation with a white friend of mine who had finished "The Hate U Give" probably a few months ago. And he knew that I was going to talk to you and was excited about it.

And he said his big question as a white adult reading this book - he was like, is Angie writing these books primarily for young black kids to better see themselves or for young white kids to better see a world they don't know, or is it somewhere in the middle? I mean, it's not as simple as, like, is-this-for-black-kids-or-for-white-kids question But, like, I wonder how you navigate that because based on who you are as a kid reading this, it is a different experience, right?

A THOMAS: Absolutely. You know, and I often say that my priority is those black kids. They don't get enough books about themselves. You know, they don't - they aren't given enough mirrors to see themselves. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishops (ph), who's a wonderful academic in children's literature, she says that books are either mirrors, windows or sliding-glass doors. And I think it's important for my books to be all three.

So I always think of those kids, especially in my old neighborhood, who say, I hate reading. And why do they say that? Because they rarely see themselves in books. So I'm always going to think about them first. And if it creates a mirror - a window, wonderful. That's great. But always, always the priority - my priority is those black kids.

SANDERS: All right, time for a break. When we come back, I ask Angie how young is too young for kids to read her books. BRB (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: When do you know as a writer of young adult content when kids are ready for the serious issues you raise in your books?

A THOMAS: You know, it's hard for me to say because I think it depends on the kid. I've had 8-year-olds write to me directly and say that they love "The Hate U Give." And I'm like...

SANDERS: Wow.

A THOMAS: ...Does your mama know you read that?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

A THOMAS: (Laughter) You know? But he wrote me this letter, and I got to respond to him. But he wrote me this letter. And he said, I love your book, and keep doing what you're doing. You're making a difference, and the world is going to be a better place because you're in it. And it made me cry. But the fact is he's 8. And what also - what really got me about it, though, was the fact that he mentioned that his mom got him the book. And that made me say, huh, your mom thought that at 8 years old...

SANDERS: You're ready.

A THOMAS: ...You needed to read this book. That means that you are aware of something that an 8-year-old should not have to be aware of. And I'm glad that my book was there for him, but I'm sad that he had to be at that point. You know, I had a lot of white parents say, I'm not sure - I had a white parent tell me, I'm not sure my 13-year-old is ready to read "The Hate U Give." And I said, well, just think of this. There are black parents of 8-year-olds who have to have these conversations. If you only have to worry about your child reading about it, consider yourself blessed.

SANDERS: Come on.

A THOMAS: That's privilege.

SANDERS: One of the things that I love about your career is that on top of just making good books, you are trying to make a good industry for books. And you have spoken out a lot about the lack of diversity in publishing, particularly the lack of diversity in publishing of children's books. You've even gone so far as to call out your own publisher, HarperCollins, and say, when you were a kid, they weren't making books for you. Years into this work now, do you think that's getting better?

A THOMAS: I do. I do. We're seeing more and more books featuring kids of color and just marginalized kids, period, at the forefront. You know, there was one time just a few months ago where half of the books on The New York Times Best Seller list starred kids of color. And that was amazing. You know, that was incredible to see.

SANDERS: Yeah.

A THOMAS: And it's showing them that, yeah, these books can sell. These books can sell well too. But on the flip side, my fear is that - and I take - I - part of me feels guilty about this - but on the flip side, my fear is that they're assuming that only issue books, so-called issue books, can be acquired about kids of color. You know, "The Hate U Give" and "On The Come Up," people are calling them important books, and that's great. But let's also have - can we get a "Twilight" featuring black kids?

SANDERS: Come on.

A THOMAS: You know, can we get romantic comedies featuring black kids, rom-coms? Can we just have stories with them just being and just doing? Can we get even crappy books about black kids?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

A THOMAS: Every book doesn't have to - you know, there are plenty of crappy books out there. Every book does not have to be stellar because it's about a kid of color by a person of color.

SANDERS: Yeah.

A THOMAS: So I'm seeing changes, and I want to see more changes. But I really want to see more changes within publishing itself, within the offices themselves. And I'm thankful because my publisher is amazing. My editor, she's amazing. Balzer and Bray, they are one of the most diverse imprints out there. And I'm so proud of them and the work they're doing. Of the three - of the big YA movies that came out last year, they published most of them.

SANDERS: Really?

A THOMAS: And they were all about characters that you wouldn't see necessarily at the forefront. But they made us all - they put us all at the forefront. So I think they're...

SANDERS: This was "Hate U Give" (ph) and what else, as far as movies?

A THOMAS: "Love, Simon..."

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

A THOMAS: ...Which was based on "Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda," "Dumplin'," which was based on the book "Dumplin'," which was about a fat girl.

SANDERS: Yeah.

A THOMAS: And then there was "The Miseducation Of Cameron Post," which was about LGBTQIA kids. So they did all of those books, and they all became amazing movies. And so they're showing...

SANDERS: And hits.

A THOMAS: Yeah (laughter).

SANDERS: (Laughter).

A THOMAS: So they're showing publishing that diverse books should be given just as much attention as any other books. But also, they're showing that there can be a wide range of diverse books. So shout-out to my publisher - they're doing it right.

SANDERS: Shout-out.

A THOMAS: (Laughter).

SANDERS: I love it. They are going to love this interview (laughter).

A THOMAS: (Laughter).

SANDERS: Another thing I love about your story is how it shows that, like, in terms of, like, diversifying publishing, there also has to be a re-conception (ph) of what the pipeline even looks like. I think that there is a very traditional path one goes about to get a book published. And your story proved that you don't have to have that path. You found your agent on Twitter.

A THOMAS: Yeah (laughter). Yeah.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Tell folks that story. It's amazing.

A THOMAS: Yeah. I was in the middle of finishing up my edits on "The Hate U Give," and I was considering sending it out to literary agents. But, like, a few weeks earlier, a study had come out saying that that year alone, there were more books featuring animals and trucks as the main characters than black kids.

SANDERS: Good God (laughter).

A THOMAS: And for me - I know - (laughter) and for me, I was like, wait, what? First of all, what?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

A THOMAS: And then knowing that I (laughter) have this book about this black girl and not just a book about a black girl, but a book about - that's inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, I immediately thought, there is no way I have a shot. So I was actually at my job. I worked at a church at the time. And I was on my lunch break, and I signed on Twitter.

And I saw that a literary agency was holding a question-and-answer session. Basically, aspiring writers could just ask publishing-related questions and get a response. You know, there are so many things so many of us want to know, but we're so often afraid to ask. And here they were, giving us a chance to ask even if we sounded stupid. So I just asked a question using the hashtag. I was like, are books that deal with sensitive issues a no-no? And I wasn't even sure how to word it, but I was like, let's just put it like that.

SANDERS: (Laughter) OK.

A THOMAS: And so this agent, Brooks Sherman, he responded. And he was like, what kind of issues? And I said, the Black Lives Matter movement. I have a young adult book dealing with that. And he said, I don't think that any topic is off topic in young adult books. It's all about how you approach it. And I said, well, I hope I did it right (laughter). And he said, well, I'd actually like to read it. So I...

SANDERS: The rest is history (laughter).

A THOMAS: Yeah. I emailed it to him, and he read it, loved it and signed me.

SANDERS: Wow.

A THOMAS: And maybe three months after signing me, we went on submission to publishers, and 13 U.S. publishers fought for the rights to this book.

SANDERS: Wow.

A THOMAS: So Twitter is good for something (laughter).

SANDERS: (Laughter).

A THOMAS: I'm very thankful to Jack for that, if nothing else (laughter).

SANDERS: (Laughter) Talking about Jack Dorsey.

A THOMAS: Very (laughter).

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.

All right, time for one more break. When we come back, how Angie found her literary agent on Twitter while working as a church secretary in Jackson, Miss. BRB (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: I also love, like, the entire backstory of "The Hate U Give." Like - and I don't want to tell your story. I want you to tell it. But like, you started writing this book, like, in college at - what is it? - Belhaven University.

A THOMAS: Yeah. Belhaven University. It's a liberal arts school here in Jackson, Miss. I was in the creative writing program. I was actually the first black student to graduate from the creative writing program.

SANDERS: Wow.

A THOMAS: And that's really just because the program was young. I think I was part of the third or fourth graduating class. But still, I was the first black student. But then, that also meant I was the only black student a lot of times. So like, when stuff like slavery got discussed, everybody looked at me as if I was there (laughter).

SANDERS: Looked at you (laughter).

A THOMAS: You know? But...

SANDERS: You're like, I'm not Harriet (laughter).

A THOMAS: (Laughter) Yeah. But I often found myself being two different people in two very different worlds. I still lived in my old neighborhood. And although it was, like, 10 minutes away from Belhaven, it was an entirely different world. If you've read the book "The Help" or watched the movie, like, the neighborhood where the maids worked, that's where my school is. So it was totally different from my 'hood, you know.

SANDERS: Yeah.

A THOMAS: And I found myself just changing who I was, where I was often. But while I was in school, a young man named Oscar Grant lost his life in Oakland, Calif. And I didn't know him personally, but I took his death very personally. Oscar - the last day of his life is the subject of the movie "Fruitvale Station..."

SANDERS: Yeah.

A THOMAS: ...For those who don't know. So I wrote. I wrote a short story about a boy named Khalil, who was a lot like Oscar, and a girl named Starr, who lived in those two different worlds like I did. So that's essentially how "The Hate U Give" was born. It was my senior project for college.

SANDERS: So you're still in Jackson?

A THOMAS: For now, yeah.

SANDERS: And you grew up there?

A THOMAS: Yes.

SANDERS: It must have given you such a rich sense of history to come from there and to - I mean, like, it's a place full of history. I was reading - what? - you grew up, like, three minutes away from Medgar Evers' home. Your mother heard the shot that killed him. Like, you're walking amidst history in Jackson, Miss. I'm sure it must affect the way you write and how you write.

A THOMAS: Oh, yeah, for sure. You know, Mississippi is known for two things, racism and writing. And I happen to be a writer who writes about racism (laughter).

SANDERS: (Laughter).

A THOMAS: It was kind of inevitable.

SANDERS: Yeah.

A THOMAS: But yeah, you know. I think it was William Faulkner who once said, if you can understand Mississippi, you can understand America because what happens here, it happens all over the country, you know? And the history we have here is America's history. And for me, I have to say, you know - I have to admit, like, I'm struggling with it now. Do I stay, or do I leave? Because as a Mississippian, the relationship with this state often feels like a relationship with an emotionally abusive parent. You still love them, but at times you're like, I don't need this.

SANDERS: Wow.

A THOMAS: This is toxic.

SANDERS: But you're staying for a while? You could easily move anywhere you wanted to at this point, right?

A THOMAS: Yeah (laughter).

SANDERS: (Laughter).

A THOMAS: I'm definitely considering at least just living here part-time within the next year or so...

SANDERS: Really?

A THOMAS: ...And just making it a part-time residence. You know, I'm still trying to decide it.

SANDERS: OK.

A THOMAS: Because the struggle for me is I like staying because, if nothing else, I give the kids here an example and show them what's possible. You know, Nelson Mandela always said that he made sure he shook people's hands because he wanted them to feel what's possible. So I want kids in Mississippi to see me to know what's possible.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.

A THOMAS: I grew up knowing that Oprah was from here.

SANDERS: Come on.

A THOMAS: But it didn't click that Oprah was from here because I didn't see Oprah. She is more than welcome to fix that by coming to my house or something, but (laughter)...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

A THOMAS: I love you, Oprah. That was no shade at you. You know, but I knew she was from here. But I wasn't used to seeing people every day or even just around town and knowing that they were doing things like this, and they were still here, that it was possible. So that's why it's a struggle for me to decide whether to stay or to leave.

SANDERS: Yeah. A thing I read about you was that since your career took off, you moved into a gated neighborhood.

A THOMAS: (Laughter) Yeah.

SANDERS: How does that feel? I mean, particularly writing about the communities that you write about in your books, did you feel like you were leaving some of that reality when you moved on up?

A THOMAS: Oh, yeah. I had to struggle like Maverick struggled in "The Hate U Give," you know. Like, if - does leaving change who I am? And I had to just realize that it doesn't, you know. The weird thing about specifically the metro Jackson area is that a lot of the nice neighborhoods and safe neighborhoods are gated. And it always makes me think of this line that CeeLo Green had in one of the Goodie Mob songs. He says, but every now and then, I wonder if the gate was put up to keep crime out or keep our [expletive] in. I think about that a lot when I see...

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.

A THOMAS: ...(Laughter) When I see these gated neighborhoods. So moving into one, I was like, huh. But I had to come to the realization, like Maverick does in the book, just because I live - don't live there doesn't mean I don't care about what happens there. So I'm making investments into that community. I want to do things to continue to improve that community, even if I don't live there. I had to move for safety sakes, you know, because when all the dope boys start saying, oh, she got money, you need to leave (laughter).

SANDERS: (Laughter) I hear you.

A THOMAS: But I still care about what happens there, and I'm still investing into that community.

SANDERS: Yeah.

A THOMAS: So you know, it doesn't matter if you live there or not. You just need to care about it.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, thinking about moving on up, like, I'm sure not just your location, but maybe everything about your life changed since the crazy, amazing success of "The Hate U Give." Like, how different is your life, I guess, from, like, church secretary to now?

A THOMAS: Oh, it's totally different. Before the book came out, I'd only ever traveled to Alabama and Memphis, and those two don't count, you know (laughter)?

SANDERS: Wow (laughter).

A THOMAS: That - those are like - that's like being in extended Mississippi, you know (laughter)?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

A THOMAS: But before that, I had never traveled, and now I've been to several countries, you know. I'd never been on a plane before, and now I'm, like, diamond on Delta. You know, I'm flying all the time.

SANDERS: OK (laughter).

A THOMAS: You know (laughter)? So that's changed. And just being now a recognizable person - you know, I was in Kroger the other week, and somebody recognized me. And I'm like, dang, I just can't come out the house now and look any kind of way. Somebody's going to be like, Angie Thomas was in Kroger in her robe. What?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

A THOMAS: You know, I can't do that.

SANDERS: Yeah.

A THOMAS: So that - people recognize me now. But I'm thankful that, you know, with my family I'm still the same. Everything's still the same, you know. My mom will still get on my case about my room looking a mess because I bought a house, and I put my mom in the house with me. And even though I pay the mortgage, she'll get on me about my room. And I'm looking at her as I say it (laughter).

SANDERS: (Laughter) Mom, you want to go on the mike? I have to give her a chance to offer some rebuttal.

A THOMAS: (Laughter) No, no.

SANDERS: Come on, Mom. Come on. Put on the mike.

J THOMAS: And she's talking about looking at me. I'm looking at her too.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

A THOMAS: Because my room is a mess right now.

J THOMAS: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: I love it. Do you promise right now, Miss Thomas, to clean your room after this interview?

A THOMAS: I will clean my room when I get home.

J THOMAS: Yes, she will. Yes, she will.

(LAUGHTER)

A THOMAS: See? See? That's what I think...

SANDERS: I love it.

A THOMAS: Some things haven't changed, and I'm thankful for that.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.

A THOMAS: I'm thankful that that's the same, you know. Even though I'm 31 years old, that's still the same (laughter).

SANDERS: (Laughter).

J THOMAS: If you're 92, I'm still Mom.

A THOMAS: OK.

SANDERS: Oh, come on. Come on, Mom.

A THOMAS: All right, let's move the mike.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: I love this. I love this.

(LAUGHTER)

A THOMAS: So yeah, some things are still the same, and I'm very thankful for that (laughter).

SANDERS: Yes. Yes. Oh, man, I'll tell you what. This interview, it was swaggerific.

A THOMAS: (Laughter).

SANDERS: I had so much fun. I had so much fun.

A THOMAS: I did too. Thanks (laughter).

J THOMAS: (Laughter).

SANDERS: I'm so grateful for your time, for your mother's time, for your body of work.

A THOMAS: Thank you. This was probably the most fun I've had on an interview, so thank you.

SANDERS: Aw, I appreciate that. You take care.

A THOMAS: You too. Bye.

SANDERS: Bye-bye.

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SANDERS: Many thanks to Angie Thomas and her mother. Angie's new book is called "On The Come Up." It's out now. Special thanks to NPR's Barrie Hardymon for her help on this episode. Also, thanks to Jay White and the staff at Mississippi Public Broadcasting in Jackson.

All right. Listeners, as always, Friday is coming. That means we're going to have another weekly wrap of all the news that's fit to laugh about in your feed soon. It's also a chance for you to share with me the best thing that's happened to you all week. It's very simple to do this. Just record yourself, like, on your phone or whatever, and send that audio file to me via email at samsanders@npr.org - samsanders@npr.org.

Also, while you're doing things on your phone, if you like this show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. That helps other people find the show. It helps me feel good about myself. It is just a win-win all around. OK. Till Friday, thank you for listening. I'm Sam Sanders. Talk soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVAN'S "FLICKER")

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