Six bestselling Young Adult authors have teamed up to write “Blackout,” a new novel celebrating Black love. The book, on sale now, weaves together six stories of love and friendship set against a massive power outage in New York City.
“Blackout” was written by six people. They are Dhonielle Clayton, author of “The Belles,” Tiffany D. Jackson, author of “Monday’s Not Coming,” Nic Stone, author of “Dear Martin,” Angie Thomas, author of “The Hate U Give,” Ashley Woodfolk, who wrote the “Flyy Girls” series and Nicola Yoon, who wrote “Instructions for Dancing.”
The six writers joined “CBS This Morning” Wednesday. They gathered in Harlem to discuss collaborating during the pandemic, and the importance of representing young people of color in joyful love stories.
Read part of their conversation below:
Ashley Woodfolk: I’m so excited to be here with all of you beautiful ladies.
Nic Stone: Thank you.
Woodfolk: Let’s start with Dhonielle… why don’t you tell the story of how you roped all of us into doing this book with you?
Dhonielle Clayton: It’s so funny… how we all came together… I have a wonderful niece. She is 15 years old.
And she said to me, “Why don’t the Black girls ever get big love stories? Why are they always the sidekick? …And I thought, “You’re right. This is a problem.” Then the pandemic started and on TV, we kept seeing… Black people being killed at the hands of police violence.
It was super, super depressing and upsetting. And I thought…we have to have some hope. And then I was, like, “Okay. I’m just gonna rope all of the people that I love into writing a novel together” — I mean, lovingly. [Laughs]
I feel really proud about what we made. And I think that when people read it, they will see all of that love and all of that light, which is what we needed when we were going through this pandemic.
Angie Thomas: And usually, writing is, like, very isolating.
Tiffany D. Jackson: And this is the opposite.
Thomas: This was, like — this was the best group project I’ve ever been a part of.
Everyone: Yes, absolutely.
Stone: Honestly, it was, like, super organic… Dhonielle basically was, like, “You’re gonna do this trope. You’re gonna do this trope… And as we put them together, we interwove them with characters.
Nicola Yoon: And Tiffany’s story which, like, really connects them all.
Jackson: That’s the only way I could see this happening. I could only visualize this book as a “Love Actually,” as a “Valentine’s Day.”
I have so much of a connection here that I’m so excited to see other people fall in love with my city and fall in love in my city… And then we all were able to connect it through our different characters.
Woodfolk: Different neighborhoods.
Jackson: Different neighborhoods and stuff.
Woodfolk: Yeah, you really get, like, the full breadth of New York City just from Tiffany’s story and then the way our stories sort of pop in as you get to each act of her story.
Stone: Not every story in this book is a traditional love story. How do you feel like the story kind of ties into the larger theme of love?
Thomas: Yeah, yeah, I try to do that in my books, show different kinds of love ’cause it’s not just romantic love. That’s great. But family love.
Woodfolk: And self —
Thomas: — And self love. That’s a huge one for me in my stories.
I think one thing that “Blackout” does, and it does beautifully, is that it affirms to Black kids that… you can be the center of the love story, and we’re telling them over and over again that their lives matter, but we’re telling them in the context of trauma.
And I think that, by showing various kinds of love stories… it really brings that message home, that your lives matter, your dreams matter, your love matters, your hope matters, all of it. All of it matters.
Stone: We even got a love story where she gets to choose between two dudes. [Laughs] Right, because Black kids have love triangles as well.
Woodfolk: Yeah, I’ve honestly never seen that until I read Angie’s story.
Thomas: I haven’t either. And I thought about that.
You see it in YA all the time, the girl trying to choose between two guys. You know, that was — that was “Twilight.” That was the “Hunger Games.”
But we don’t see it with the Black girls. We don’t.
Clayton: And you did that.
Thomas: Thanks! [Laughs]
Jackson: So there are not just one, but two stories that have LGBTQ+ characters in it, so talk about the importance of the literary representation for members of the community. And especially since this is, like, Pride Month.
Stone: It’s detrimental to a person’s identity to never see themselves reflected in– in a positive way. So for me, it’s vital to tell as many types of stories, of love stories, as possible.
Woodfolk: I feel the same way…. I’ll be honest. I think that if I had read a book that had a queer, Black girl in it when I was 15, I would’ve recognized the signs. [Laughs] The signs were everywhere.
And, of course, the six of us can’t write into every single experience or every single identity… We wanted to… make it as inclusive as possible, like, that is why those stories are there, because we were those kids.
And they deserve a great love story just as much as everybody else… recognizing the humanity in all different ways of existing will just make all of us kinder.
Thomas: I think that if any of our readers tune into this interview and they look at this and they’re, like, “I read her book. I read her book… they’re all so different from one another.”
You know, Tiffany, she destroys us with her books, with her thrillers. And Nicola, she mends our hearts.
Thomas: So what would you say that you bring to “Blackout” from your previous work?
Stone: I write boys… I grew up surrounded by boys… And there’s something so, like, rich and beautiful about Black male teens that we don’t get to see. So, like, that’s what I brought. I brought my boy characters.
Woodfolk: I feel like I brought —
Stone: — If you don’t know, I can tell you.
Woodfolk: The feels, maybe —
Stone: [To Jackson] You didn’t murder anybody.
Woodfolk: I know. I’m proud of you. [Laughs]
Jackson: I feel like I brought a change of format… I wanted to make sure that, like, you know, no, this story had to be fire. We had to throw everything at it.
Woodfolk: I feel like you also brought tension, which is something that you do —
Stone: That’s a feat, bringing —
Everyone: It is.
Stone: — suspense to a love story.
Look at you, lookin’ so proud. Just so proud right now.
Yoon: I really like to write about the power of a big love, right, to change your life… So I think that’s what I bring. People knock it all the time. And they knock romantic stories. It makes me so mad because love is all there is.
You love your work. You love your art. You love your friends. Love is the thing.
Woodfolk: You also brought, yelling at everyone to add more kissing. [Laughs]
Clayton: I think we’re like the “Captain Planet” of YA, right. I love it.
All of our forces combine have now created this wonderful experience that, as we move through the city and move through the stories and meet the characters… it comes alive.
Watch more of their conversation below: