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Why We Need Diverse Characters In YA Books, According To Angie Thomas

The author of The Hate U Give spoke to BuzzFeed about being inclusive when it comes to writing for children.

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Angie Thomas is the No. 1 New York Times best-selling author of The Hate U Give, which was released earlier this year. The Hate U Give, according to Thomas, "is about 16-year-old Starr, who lives in two different worlds — the mostly poor, black neighborhood where she lives and the mostly white, upper-class private school she attends. The struggle of being two different people in two different worlds becomes even harder after she witnesses a cop killing her childhood best friend, Khalil, who was unarmed. And what she does or doesn't come forward to say could change her community, and it could end their lives."

BuzzFeed caught up with Thomas to discuss writing diversely when it comes to writing for children. Here are her wise thoughts.

1. Be real with your writing, go there, and write the stories you're afraid to write.

Pedro Fequiere / BuzzFeed

"Writers are providing windows and mirrors when they write, and windows create empathy. Right now we need a lot of empathy. Kids need to have the option to read books in which they see themselves in the pages. All children should know that their voices matter."

2. Marginalized writers should tell their stories authentically.

Pedro Fequiere / BuzzFeed

"It can be scary, especially since publishing is so white. That can be intimidating, but we need those stories. Every kid needs to see themselves in a book. I think that's one of the biggest gifts we can give children."

3. Writers shouldn't write diverse books just because they think it's a trend.

Pedro Fequiere / BuzzFeed

"If you approach this as a trend, you're dehumanizing people. Diversity should be a normal part of literature. Publishers need to lift up those voices. ... And it makes a difference."

4. If you're going to write outside of your marginalization, approach it with care.

Pedro Fequiere / BuzzFeed

"We can't tell anyone what to write or what not to write because they'll do it anyway, but you can be sensitive about it. When we're talking about children's books we have to be careful. Because what you say in a book can hurt a child. If a child picks up a book and a child sees themselves portrayed in a stereotypical light, that hurts."

5. Do the research.

Pedro Fequiere / BuzzFeed

"If you were writing a legal thriller but have no legal background, would you do some research? So why not do the same when approaching marginalized characters? When I was writing The Hate U Give, I had to research gangs. I have not been in a gang nor do I have family members who have been in gangs, so I had to research it. I had to look at firsthand accounts of that culture — not just what the media portrays. I watched documentaries and consulted with attorneys. This also applies to identity. If you're writing about a gay boy or a black girl, you need to talk to a gay boy or black girl. You have to go above and beyond to get it right. The internet is a beautiful thing for a writer, but we have to put in the work. I think that's key: Put in the work. Whether you're writing about diversity or a legal thriller, you have to put in the work. Find the resources. Find the people. And when you find the people, please pay them. No one owes you anything — you owe them for their help!"

6. Not every story is our story to tell, and that's OK.

Pedro Fequiere / BuzzFeed

"When we're talking about own voices, I feel like those are the voices that need to be uplifted even more. Sometimes we have to take a step back and let people tell their own stories. Sometimes you need someone who who has lived that experience to tell that story, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not saying you can't write what you want to write, but I would ask publishers to try and lift up 'own-voice books' even more, so we can give kids authentic mirrors and windows."

7. Sensitivity readers play an important role in creating.

Pedro Fequiere / BuzzFeed

"There's nothing wrong with saying 'I don't know everything, so I need someone who has an inside view to take a look at this.' I would encourage writers to get sensitivity readers. As a black woman writing about a black woman, I still got sensitivity readers because I recognized that my experiences are different than other people's experiences. Take your heart off your sleeve and let someone else read your writing. Go to the sources that will help you in the best way possible. Check your own prejudices and get out of the way. It's one of the best things you can do."

8. Humble yourself to a certain extent and ask for help.

Pedro Fequiere / BuzzFeed

"Writing fiction means you have a little wiggle room to make stuff up. But if you're writing for children, what you make up can still cause harm if you're not careful. The best way to avoid stereotypes is to sometimes ask people who are like those people to read it. We can write stereotypes and not realize we're doing it because of our own ingrained prejudices."

9. Ask yourself: Why am I the person to tell this story?

Pedro Fequiere / BuzzFeed

"Motivation goes a long way when you're writing. You have to do some self-reflection. You have to look at your words and consider whether they might harm the people — these kids — who you're writing for. I wrote The Hate U Give for myself first. I had my own anger and frustrations, and I wanted this book to help people understand why we say those three words: Black Lives Matter. We're not saying all lives don't matter. It's a problem that in this country black lives don't matter enough. But Black Lives Matter too. I wanted my book to help people understand those words more. I wanted my book to take something that's often seen as political and make it feel personal. It eventually became something that's beyond me. It's opening minds, changing hearts, and creating empathy. Empathy is more powerful than sympathy, and I hope my book reinforces that."

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