Blerd Book Review: ‘Panther in the Hive’ by Olivia A. Cole [INTERVIEW]
Sometimes books suck. Sometimes they amaze. But, more often than not, they suck, they’re boring, and they go on for what seems like forever. Well, there’s one ‘coming of age’, post-apocalyptic, futuristic thriller zombie novel that defies all those odds. ‘Panther in the Hive’ is a sleeper. Written by poet, activist, writer, and all-around dope chick, Olivia A. Cole, this book about Tasha Lockett – a twenty-something black girl navigating zombie filled Chicago streets with a knife and a Prada bag – is perfect for nerdy black women (and everyone else). Let me tell you why.
It isn’t easy to tie together a love of fashion, an uncanny ability to recollect hit black movies, Cee Lo, and video games in one human being. But, Cole does that with Lockett. The character – who is so realistic it read more like a diary than a fictional story – goes through the tragedies and triumphs many of us nerdy black girls do from horrible bosses, family woes, and issues dealing with personal loss. Tasha is so relatable that you fall in love with her immediately as she discovers that most of the world is dead and she’s got to figure out how to survive on her own. I won’t giveaway the story here nor will I provide any spoilers but I will say that Cole’s storytelling captures the emotion that we each feel in our daily lives making the zombies outside of Tasha’s window more like a backdrop than the main storyline. That takes talent.
COLE: “I think every writer at some point has that dream you know that ‘Oh, I want to do it the traditional way, and have an agent, and Harper Collins.’ You know, all those things. And, I started off when I started writing my book thinking ‘yeah, that’s what I am going to do.’ But, the more I got into the book, the more I kept writing it – even before I was done when I was looking for a publisher stage – I was starting to have thoughts about self-publishing it. I was like, ‘this is MY book.'”
She actually did approach publishing houses but was not pleased with the reception to ‘Panther in the Hive’ and the main character.
COLE: “People really loved the book but they were – I don’t want to name any names – but they were resistant to the idea of a nonwhite heroine….They were saying, ‘well, she doesn’t seem as ‘mainstream’ because she is a woman of color and you know how I feel about that…only one agent went so far as to suggest and say ‘I will feel more comfortable taking the book if you make her white.'”
Sadly, this desire to publish books written by and about people who conform to the white-washed mainstream social norm of heroism and beauty (and pretty much everything else) is unsurprising. Though, it was precisely what pushed Cole to do something different.
COLE: “You know how many stories about – out of the norm – were being neglected, were being kind of edged out. And, I wasn’t comfortable with that.”
I also wanted to know Cole’s thoughts on the publishing industry in general. I wanted to know if there is space for women and women of color or if Cole saw herself as “carving that out.”
COLE: “I don’t want to go so far as to say that there’s not a place, you know, that exists. I think that that place exists but it is very small and it’s reluctantly given. I’m not trying to carve it out because people like Nnedi [Okorafor] …have already carved it out. I’m just trying to be in there with her and make it bigger.”
She also discussed how these stories have a demand but that publishing houses have missed the mark by excluding them.
COLE: “I have gotten such positive feedback from the book. You know, people want to read these stories… And, I feel like the business of publishing isn’t interested in the diversity of stories. They’re interested in dividends. They are still under the wrong impression – I would say – that white male stories or white female stories are the only ones that sell. I completely disagree. I don’t think that’s true. And, I believe that that opinion that they have means they are out of touch with readers and our culture as a whole.”
Without spoiling the book for those who haven’t read it yet, I wanted to know more about the main character. Though the book is set about 80 or so years in the future, Tasha Lockett is the quintessential millienial. She is black and indignant about who she is in the best of ways. She seems to be the anti-Katniss (Hunger Games). I asked Cole whether or not her demeanor and authenticity were intentional or just happenstance.
COLE: “She was born that way. She was born that way. She is unique. She is a special girl…There was a review on Amazon that said ‘you start off kind of hating her a little bit, then sometimes you’re jealous of her, and then you end up really respecting her journey’.”
I couldn’t agree more although I never found myself hating her. I spent most of the book thinking that she would be the most amazing person to be friends with in real life.
COLE: “She has a life just like you and me…so we see each other in this life but there’s also obviously parts of each other’s lives that we don’t see. When I talk to you, I still see the depth of that experience in your life. I try for that to be the same for Tasha. You know, you don’t have to see her entire life to know she has one.”
She certainly does.
There is so much more to Tasha and Panther in the Hive than could be investigated in a brief discussion. I asked about Tasha’s friends all being women of color. And, I inquired about Cole’s “nerd tendencies.” Watch the full interview for all the details.
While I am waiting for the second installment in the series, I feel like this will be the anti-Hunger Games movie franchise one day. Let me be the first to say: I. Cannot. Wait.
Watch the full interview below:
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