YA's biggest stars have written the collab of the year with Blackout, an ode to Black teen love and New York City.

By Alamin Yohannes
June 23, 2021 at 09:00 AM EDT
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At the beginning of the pandemic, when fear seized so many, Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles) had an idea: Gather five fellow young adult authors - Tiffany D. Jackson (Grown), Nic Stone (Dear Martin), Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give), Ashley Woodfolk (The Beauty That Remains), and Nicola Yoon (The Sun Is Also a Star) - to write a joint novel. The result, Blackout, weaves together six interconnected storylines into a diverse portrait of young love on a steamy New York City night during a power outage: Exes accidentally run into each other, best friends become more than that inside the public library, a boy meets a crush on a stalled subway car, and young love blossoms during a visit to a senior living facility and in a rideshare. Here, the women reunite to discuss their urgent work.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How does everyone's relationship to New York City fit into the book?

TIFFANY D. JACKSON: I always wanted to write about my city. I'm so in love with New York; I'm so in love with Brooklyn. In writing, I thought about some of the blackouts we had here in the 1970s - my family still talks about it to this day.

NICOLA YOON: When you watch a lot of movies set in New York [you notice] that there are no Black people. But there are so many Black people in New York, so getting to write the city in the way it's really populated was fun for us.

NIC STONE: I wrote my storyline on the part of New York that I'm most familiar with, and that's the subway. It was fun to write something that took place in a very closed-off area, but it was also a challenge.

ANGIE THOMAS: There's no place in the world like New York - that's a cliché, but it's true. It feels like just about anything is possible. Getting a chance to write my story about little Southern kids coming to New York was a great opportunity.

DHONIELLE CLAYTON: It's interesting to think about how we were able to bring the city alive with little fragments - that's what New York is to me, small pieces of a huge pie, and everything connects together through the lens of love.

What were the specific priorities when writing about Black teens in love?

JACKSON: Something that was really important to me when telling the story is to show the innocence of Black love. I thought that us writing this collection of really sweet, youthful stories was really important - especially with everything that's happening right now.

CLAYTON: We have [romance] tropes [in this book], which is fun because Black kids never get to see themselves in those tropes.

YOON: They're always a sassy best friend or supporting character, but not the main character. We wanted to show the Black kids falling in love - I fell in love every day in high school. I had so many crushes.

ASHLEY WOODFOLK: My trope was love at first sight - people hate on that, but I think it's because people who do it don't pull it off well. They don't have the right stakes. I did a good job. [Laughs]

Blackout Illo
Credit: Illustration by Mojo Wang for EW

STONE: I was very deliberate about my story choices. I am a woman who lives in a house full of dudes, and I write a lot of books with boy protagonists. I wanted to lean into that in writing. Kids grow up quickly in New York, and with that comes expectations - boys tend to fall into masculine spaces very early. [I wanted to have] a boy trying to work his way out of that.

CLAYTON: I wanted to do best childhood friends figuring out if there's something more - I'm very interested in the idea that you can fall in love with a friend.

THOMAS: I like messy dynamics - YA is often associated with love triangles.

WOODFOLK: Vampires and love triangles.

THOMAS: But we don't see Black kids and love triangles. There's something very liberating about seeing a Black girl on the page who is the object of affection - twice.

How did this all combine into a cohesive book?

CLAYTON: Everyone asks how we pulled this off. We have a synergy that is really magical. And the sewing [together] was my favorite part - I read everyone's section thinking, let's put a little thing here, a little thing there.

STONE: The trust and the love that we have for each other was the driving force behind the book. I'm excited for people to see what friendship can make.

YOON: Emotionally, we all were in the same place - stuck in our houses - and it was the summer of George Floyd. We just wanted to bring joy into the world.

CLAYTON: You can sense how much we love, love, love Black teens and Black culture. [The book is] everything I ever wanted, as a librarian, to give to my Black kids.

STONE: I'm hoping it will humanize Black kids for other people. Racism, homophobia, sexism - all of these things are about dehumanization. I want people to take a pause. And for the people who are like the kids in the book, I want them to be like, "Oh, I get to be more than what I'm seeing people say I can be. I get to be human."

THOMAS: Humanization is a love letter. This is a love letter.

YOON: It is a love letter to the idea that you can be anything, and you are worthy.

JACKSON: I want this book to replace every book that makes us look like we don't fall in love or that we are coming from toxic love.

WOODFOLK: I didn't see a Black girl getting kissed on the page until I was well into my adulthood - it was maybe two years ago. In this book, there are several, and this book is mainstream. It's going to be in bookstores, where people could just bump into it. I hope it changes things.

CLAYTON: It's gutting to think about what that might have done to all of our self-esteem as we were emerging, learning about relationships, and learning how we're supposed to connect. Where's my mess? We deserve the mess too. It's the gift I wanted to give my 15-year-old niece: [to show her] you deserve all the love stories.

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