Blackout is a YA collaboration by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon, which follows six young Black couples through a summer blackout in New York City. While the primary story arc is by Jackson, the stories interspersed throughout feature characters falling in or professing their love across the city’s landmarks. As each teen makes their way home, this inspiring collaboration brings joy to stories of Black love, queer love, and alternative forms of affection. We invited the authors of Blackout to discuss how this collection of interconnected stories came to be and why it’s so important for Black teens to have narratives that highlight love instead of pain.
How did you come to be a contributor for Blackout?
Dhonielle Clayton: I am guilty of roping all these talented writers into this project. I had this grand idea to write a novel of interconnected stories that featured Black kids falling in love and being the objects of affection. I wanted to show Black teens that they deserve to be the center of love stories and not just the supportive sidekick or waiting in the wings. I was lucky that all these brilliant women said yes to my wild idea. I am truly blessed to have such wonderful author friends.
Nic Stone: Blackout is the beautiful brainchild of Dhonielle Clayton, who tossed the idea out to us—we’re all friends who text just about every day—and asked if we’d be interested. I said yes, and the rest is history.
Tiffany Jackson: When Dhonielle pitched the idea to me as a Love, Actually for teens I could only see my story broken up and interconnected like the movie.
Angie Thomas: All props go to Dhonielle. Blackout came from that beautiful mind of hers after a conversation with her niece. When Dhonielle first approached me about it, I was absolutely excited to do something a little different than what I normally do. But at the core, the goal for Blackout was the same as my goal for my books—give Black kids mirrors that show them just how amazing they are.
Nicola Yoon: It was so very easy to say yes, not only to the fabulous idea, but to getting to work with these wildly talented women.
Ashley Woodfolk: I got a text message from Dhonielle and I immediately said, “Hell yes.”
What was it like being a contributor in a collection where the stories connect, vs. one in which each story stands alone?
Yoon: Writing novels is such a solitary process and it can sometimes feel lonely. This collaboration was a refreshing change and an absolute joy to write during the horrendousness that was 2020. Also, our group chat is hilarious!
Stone: It was a lot of fun and honestly just made me feel more connected to my friends. Coming up with the relationships that existed between the stories definitely made the whole process feel collaborative, and there’s no group of women I’d want to collaborate with more.
Thomas: It was refreshing. It was the first time I didn’t feel so isolated during the writing process. We would have discussions about how to connect our characters and our plots and it made this little world we created feel so much bigger.
Woodfolk: It was so much more fun and so collaborative. We had to talk more, which is great when you love the people you’re talking to, and we had to keep everyone else’s characters in mind as we worked. It was seamless and fun and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to do it with these brilliant ladies. It feels like a one-of-a-kind experience and something I didn’t know was on my bucket list until it arrived.
Jackson: It was the only way I was going to do it. I was excited to be a part of a cohesive project that was unique and one of a kind. We’re making history!
Clayton: The best part of this process was fitting all the stories together like puzzle pieces so it feels like one novel. The hours of brainstorming and texting and problem-solving made this process so much fun. Six brains are truly better than one.
What was your favorite part of writing your story?
Stone: The fact that it was a reprieve from the stress and anxiety of the pandemic. Getting to write about big feelings that had nothing to do with quarantine or racism was a really great reminder of my own humanity.
Clayton: I had a great time building out my character’s footnotes. Lana has a hard time verbalizing her feelings, much how I was in high school. I loved using footnotes so she could tell the reader exactly what she was afraid of and what she wanted to say when things got tense between her and her best friend.
Thomas: Writing the plot twist at the end. It’s not one we usually see in love triangle storylines!
Woodfolk: Writing a sweet pit bull into my story. I’d always wanted to do that but hadn’t had the chance until Blackout.
Yoon: I love philosophy, so getting a chance to have my characters geek out on the nature of love and identity made me very happy.
Jackson: The comradery between us all was my favorite part: brainstorming together, reading each other’s work, laughing, and sharing memories. I’m blessed to be friends and work with some incredible Black women.
There are so many different kinds of love stories told throughout the collection. Why do you feel it’s important for Black children to have narratives like this?
Yoon: So often the narrative is one of pain and hardship. But pain is not all there is, and Black children deserve to see that. They deserve swoony, joyful love stories with lots of kissing. They deserve the full measure of their humanity.
Stone: Growing up, I never saw Black kids as the main star of love stories, especially stories rooted in joy. And I love romance! So I really hope kids will see that they are worthy of being in every trope and being the object of affection, not just a sidekick.
Clayton: It is so important that Black kids know that all of the different love stories are available to them. They deserve to have a big love story and to experience love.
Stone: So that they know what’s possible in the midst of a world that inundates them with the type of vitriol and prejudice that makes stories like Blackout seem impossible.
Thomas: Hopefully books like Blackout further validate their experiences and remind them that they deserve a love story, too. It’s also important for other kids to see Black children in narratives like this to show that we, Black people, are more than struggle or hardship.
Woodfolk: Knowing you’re lovable is sometimes hard to believe under normal circumstances. But when you throw in racism and police brutality and a whole system built on dehumanizing us, it’s nearly impossible. Black kids deserve these stories so they know, so they see, that they’re not only lovable, but easy to love and that Black love can come in all shapes and sizes. Non-Black kids need to see it too, so they remember how much we have in common and that we’re all equally human.
An online party for Blackout, featuring all six of the authors, will be held on June 22 at 7 p.m. ET; more information is available here.
Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton et al. Quill Tree, $19.99 June 22 ISBN 978-0-06-308809-2