Winner in MIAL’s new category, Youth Literature, is Angie Thomas for her bestselling novel, On the Come Up. The main character, a sixteen-year-old rapper named Bri, aspires to become a rapper like her deceased father, an underground rap legend. The novel is Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, which was her own path until she began to write. The novel has already been optioned for a film. One reviewer said that Thomas is “an author in complete command of her own voice.” Another said, “The text challenges its readers to think deeply about white privilege, police brutality, and the circumstances designed to break the spirits of young people of color.” Thomas, a native of Jackson, Mississippi, received a BFA degree from Belhaven University, the first Black student to graduate in creative writing. She received a Walter Dean Myers Grant in 2015. Her first novel, The Hate U Give, debuted at number one on the New York Times Best Seller list for young adult hardcover books and became a motion picture. It has won many awards, including the William C. Morris Award, the Michael L. Printz Award, and the Coretta Scott King Award. Inspired by the rap music of Tupac Skahur, the title comes from the acronym of Skahur’s tattoo, which Thomas translates as “what society feeds into youth has a way of coming back and affecting us all.” Thomas, who at a young age witnessed multiple instances of gun violence, sees writing as a form of activism because it promotes empathy.
Recipient’s remarks: I have to say that getting this award is a little more special than the rest. Recognition from my home state means more than words can describe. To the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Had Teenage Angie known that she would receive such a big honor from folks right here in Mississippi, it would’ve told her that a kid like her was worthy of such an honor. Even more so, by acknowledging a book that pays homage to the art form she loves, you would’ve been validating her. I hope this does the same for all of the young people in Mississippi who see themselves in my words. With this award, you’re sending them that same message. On their behalf, thank you. I would like to thank those readers as well. Your love and support is the reason I’m in the position to even receive this award. There’s nothing quite like the love that Mississippi readers give—you read with your whole hearts and your passion for literature encourages me to write for you even more. As always, thanks to my publisher, Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, my phenomenal editor, Donna Bray, my incredible agent Brooks Sherman, and every single person who has devoted time and effort to help Bri find her way in the world. Finally, I would like to thank Mississippi. As rocky as the relationship can be, I wouldn’t be who I am without you. Thank you.
Judge Kathi Appelt wrote, “Sixteen-year-old Brianna knows what she wants: to be a rapper. In her rough-and-tumble world, a world that is marked by her father’s murder, her mother’s drug addiction and a larger extended family that seems to be having its own civil war, she strikes out, determined to make her own mark in the parallel universe of rap music. In the process, she writes and records a song that exemplifies every stereotype that she and the people she loves have worked hard to dispel. It will take determination and grit to overcome what she’s created—the self-made image of a hoodlum, something she’s fought against her whole life. But the goddess of success has other ideas. Brianna first has to face that head-on, especially when that goddess is so full of promise.” Appelt continues, “I loved this story. Brianna’s voice is one that speaks for so many, especially those who need above all to live their own truths and to use their art to get there. Written in powerful, poetic language, here is a book that will take you down, and then fill you right back up, leaving its indelible mark on your heart.”
Kathi Appelt is the New York Times best-selling author of more than fifty books for children and young adults. She has been a National Book Award finalist twice, has won a Newbery Honor Award, the PEN USA Literature for Children Award and was named Texas Distinguished Author by Abilene Public Library. She lives in College Station, Texas.