SAN ANTONIO – From Kanye West to Johnny Cash, artists have a storied history of visiting prisons and that includes New York Times best-selling young adult author Nic Stone.
“Oh, man, like they’re my favorite places to visit, partially because these are kids who are desperate for hope, right? I can’t tell you the number of kids I’ve met in detention who mentioned either making music or writing poetry or doing something in the arts. This is what they look forward to when they get out. So I’m thrilled to be a part of this tradition of artists going in to speak to the ones that society would rather just ignore,” Stone said.
Yet Stone says adults will oftentimes assume young people don’t know what they are talking about, that they aren’t paying attention or that they don’t have the capacity to think about complex things. But she points out that most major movements that shook the world were started by young people, like the Civil Rights Movement.
“So talking to the people whose minds are still developing, who are still pliable, who actually care about the people around them, though they may not care about us, I think we’re getting our feelings because they don’t want to listen to us, but they care about their friends. And I’m like, OK, great, they care about their friends. This is a great entryway into getting them to see the bigger picture and things that they can help change in the world. So like go young people, I will be for young people forever,” Stone said.
But loving the kids she speaks to can also make it difficult to write her books. Stone says her most recent book, “Dear Justyce,” is based in reality, much like its predecessor “Dear Martin.” She says there are stories about the Civil Rights Movement, police shootings of unarmed black men and the prison-industrial complex. Stone says Black authors are required to monetize their own trauma, their generational trauma, and traumatic events happening to kids right now.
“So writing those books and having to put that stuff on the page sucks a lot. And I’m glad that I have the opportunity to do it. And I take I take it very seriously, but I do I am looking forward to the day when these books are historical fiction and it’s like, wow, this used to happen. Like, I can’t wait for that day,” Stone said.
However, Stone says she writes fiction books because it is a vehicle for introducing people to a reality they don’t want to face. She says she can create a character, get you to feel compassion and empathize with the character, then tell you the truth.
“And then it’s like, whoa, what am I going to do about this? Like, I really care about this character. I care about the things that happen. These things are terrible. Now that I know this is real, how do I fix it? How do I change it? And the number of emails, direct messages that I get from teachers and students who are like, I just read this book, I’m a wreck, what can I do to help? Like, those are those are the messages that gives me hope because it means that you were actually paying attention,” Stone said.
But not all of Stone’s books are difficult to write. One of her favorites came to fruition after she saw Marvel’s “Black Panther” and wanted to write about the superhero’s sister, Shuri.
“I see the movie, I see this little sister of the Black Panther. She’s like the head of technology and she totally stole the show in that movie. And I remember thinking to myself, I have to figure out a way that I can write books about that character. And the reason I felt that way is because she was me when I was in middle school,” Stone said.
And Stone says seeing oneself in books is critical, because it helps you believe anything is possible.
“So having the chance to write and build out a black girl character who is a superhero with no powers, she doesn’t have power. She’s just really smart. She’s like she’s like Tony Stark. Like she’s like smarter than Tony Stark, by the way. But she is she just uses her brain. And having black girls who can now see, yo, I can use my brain to solve problems, it’s there’s nothing like it,” Stone said.
Stone says she grew up with a wide range of cultures, religions and backgrounds and she strives to bring those diverse stories to her work.
“One thing is true about all of them. They all have the same range of human emotion, myself included. Knowing that most of us have the same range of human emotion lets me know that we can all connect with each other on something. And that is the core that’s at the core of my storytelling,” Stone said.