Six well-known Black female authors with best-selling credentials came together to announce their joint project of a young adult novel surrounding the 2003 New York City blackout. Though the collaboration is a publisher dream, it also shows how moments of racial tension particularly in recent U.S. history are the moneymaking moves for authors of color to get their literary voices out into the world.
Angie Thomas of The Hate U Give, Tiffany D. Jackson of Grown, Nic Stone of Dear Martin, Nicola Yoon of Everything, Everything; Dhonielle Clayton of The Belles, and Ashley Woodfolk of The Beauty That Remains are teaming up for Blackout. The collection of six interconnected stories that will “bring the glowing warmth and electricity of Black teen love to this interlinked novel of charming, hilarious, and heartwarming stories that shine a bright light through the dark,” according to publisher HarperCollins Publishers and its imprint Quill Tree Books. The book’s release date is June 22, 2021.
Mistaken for terrorism almost two years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the Northeast blackout of 2003 was a massive power outage that crippled the East Coast, most notably New York City. This sent hundreds of thousands of people to the streets after many had been evacuated off the largest public transportation system or had left their vehicles since traffic lights weren’t working. With the dark atmosphere on a ninety-degree day in August, unease took over some areas as ambulances raced to destinations and people stole merchandise. Race and youth naturally became a concern.
Making race and youth the main elements in a young adult novel seems to be more common now, especially with the contributions of the aforementioned authors. Angie Thomas rose to literary fame when The Hate U Give explored the theme of unarmed Black boys being shot by police or racists as did Nic Stone’s Dear Martin. Another recent example includes Christina Hammonds Reed’s debut novel The Black Kids, which revolves around the 1992 Los Angeles uprising and includes a mention of the 1921 Black Wall Street massacre. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Karyn Parsons recently spoke about her middle grade novel How High the Moon, which revolves around the 1944 George Stinney Jr. execution.
These historical events impacting Black communities were rarely taught in school but are seeing a resurgence in mentions amid the anti-racism movement. As students are learning from their homes, some YA authors of color like Dhonielle Clayton and Kelly Yang are speaking to classrooms via Zoom though they said they dealt with racial discrimination.
YA literature, particularly for children of color, is evolving to be a supplemental lesson on race and youth that will take moments from the not-so-distant past and use character voices to convey those missing perspectives.