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Blackout shines light on Black teen love

By Kobo • July 04, 2021Author Interviews

Throughout the linked stories of Blackout, six (6!!!) of the most beloved and talented YA authors explore love, friendship, and a spectrum of teenage feelings that come out when a heatwave knocks New York City’s power offline.

We asked authors Nicola Yoon, Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, and Ashley Woodfolk about the collaboration.

Kobo: Nicola, your books are so much about the rush of youthful romance... Do you catch yourself wondering where these beautiful young people went on to? Or are you driven as a writer to tell the next story of two people falling in love?

Nicola Yoon: By the time I’m finished writing a book, I’ve spent so much time thinking about my characters and their wants and needs that I know what happens to them in the future and so I don’t tend to wonder about them too much.

Where did the idea for the 6-way collab of Blackout come from?

Dhonielle Clayton: During the pandemic, we were all struggling so much with all that was happening across the globe and I felt like we needed love to get us through the devastation, loss, and new reality. I thought about how we could collaborate to make something beautiful for Black teens who were struggling. We wanted to celebrate Black love by showing it in many different ways, and thus this beautiful project was born.

Tiffany, when we last checked in you’d been meaning to read The Four Agreements so you could take things less personally. While we would never be so rude as to check up on your reading, we did want to know, where in your writer’s mind do you put the perspectives of your collaborators in a project like Blackout so you’re able to stay true to your art and do your best work?

Tiffany D. Jackson: Wow! Drag me. LOL! I actually haven’t finished reading The Four Agreements, it still sits on my nightstand next to my journal I don’t write in nearly enough. But I will say that we really embodied the first agreement “Be Impeccable With Your Word.” We all had the same goal in mind, made a pact and stuck with it: write a love story full of joy for black teens. I’ve worked on group projects most of my life (hello Film/TV world!) but I never experienced such flawless synergy like ours. It’s magic!

Nic, did writing Blackout have anything in common with writing Shuri, your Black Panther novel? In projects like these do you write with a sense of the boundaries of the story you’re telling in a world where others are also crafting stories and characters? And is that worrying, exciting – a bit of both?

Nic Stone: Honestly, I’m pretty much always telling stories in spaces that are shared by other storytellers because most of what I write is set in the real world. Shuri, of course, is the exception re: reality, but I approach it the same way I do my contemporary stories: with what’s possible in mind. Even in settings with rules I’M not writing, the only limitations come from my own imagination. It will always by my goal to push existing “boundaries” as far as I can stretch them.

Angie, your novels The Hate U Give, Concrete Rose, and On the Come Up are all steeped in different kinds of love: mostly love of community and different kinds of love of family. Blackout is about young romantic love – does that feel like taking on a challenge in a new style, or a relief to do something different?

Angie Thomas: It was a challenge, but in a good way. I enjoyed writing Kayla’s story and exploring the messiness that can be a love triangle (or spoiler alert: a love square). Writing about relationships of any kind means writing about communication and the various ways we interact with one another. In my story, Kayla has feelings for two different boys who communicate with her in two very different ways. She not only has to figure out which love language is her love language, but who is she in the midst of all of this. That’s a theme I think my readers are used to seeing in my stories regardless. I was also able to weave in Kayla’s family dynamics despite the fact she’s stuck on a tour bus in the middle of New York.

Ashley, so much of your writing is about the complex feelings bound up in friendship, which feels like under-explored emotional territory in all kinds of literature, where romantic love is so often placed at the center of stories. Are you able to say what it is about friendship that makes you want to write about it in so many different ways?

Ashley Woodfolk: I think I’m someone who values friendship over almost everything. And for a very long time I was terrified of losing friends, because I put so much value and love into the friendships I had. Losing a friend for me was, for a long time, akin to losing a limb. So I think I keep writing about it because I’m trying to puzzle out its secrets--trying to find the secret recipe for the thing we all want and that society tells us we should have--that one BFF: Best Friend Forever.

Through my writing I think I have uncovered a secret, but not the one I expected. There is no secret recipe to having a best friend, or to keeping any friend. And it’s okay if friends don’t last forever. Most friends won’t. That doesn’t change how lovely and fulfilling friendship can be.

I think I’ll keep writing about it though. There is so much to discover about the ways we choose and try and love each other. ◼

Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon

A summer heatwave blankets New York City in darkness. But as the city is thrown into confusion, a different kind of electricity sparks…

A first meeting.

Long-time friends.

Bitter exes.

And maybe the beginning of something new.

When the lights go out, people reveal hidden truths. Love blossoms, friendship transforms, and new possibilities take flight.

View Book

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