Obamas to Produce New Netflix Project Based on Collection Cowritten by Dhonielle Clayton M.A. ’09

Alumnae, Children's Literature, Graduate Studies

August 23, 2021

single-paper-background Blackout

In 2020, Dhonielle Clayton M.A. ’09, an alumna of Hollins University’s graduate programs in children’s literature, joined with five other bestselling African American young adult authors to create Blackout, a collection of stories about Black teenagers navigating love during a power outage in New York City.

Now, Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions is partnering with fellow production company Temple Hill (Twilight, The Fault in Our Stars, Fatherhood) to develop Blackout as what The Hollywood Reporter (THR) describes as “a film and TV ‘event’” for Netflix. “The project,” THR explains, “is being developed concurrently as a TV series and film adaptation. That means that some of the six stories could wind up in the film, while others are in the TV show.”

Netflix says of the project, “From the perspective of 12 teens with six shots at love, Blackout takes place as a heatwave blankets New York City in darkness and causes an electric chaos. When the lights go out and people reveal hidden truths, love blossoms, friendships transform, and all possibilities take flight.”

In addition to Clayton, Blackout features stories by Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon. Since its publication in June, the collection has earned wide acclaim. NPR’s review states, “In Blackout, young Black love with all its insecurities, mistakes, emotion, honesty, and humanity makes for a lush read. Even amidst their fears, these characters are wonderfully respectful of each other’s choices. You will root for them all to find their own right love at their own right time. And though it was written for young adults, Blackout is a must-read for all generations.” Publishers Weekly calls it a “joyful collaboration” that “brings a necessary elation to stories of Black love, queer love, and alternative forms of affection, all of which are all tenderly highlighted in these narratives.” And, the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books remarks, “There’s plenty to smile, sigh, or swoon at here, and readers will happily keep the lights on to see these charming romances to the end.”

All six of Blackout‘s authors are on board as screenwriters for the Netflix adaptation. An air date has not been announced.

Blackout will be Clayton’s second association with Netflix. In 2019, the internet TV network ordered 10 episodes of Tiny Pretty Things, an hour-long series based on the novel co-written by Clayton and Sona Charaipotra. The first season of the series premiered in December 2020 and follows the triumphs and challenges of students at an elite dance academy where the competition to succeed is fierce.

Originally from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., Clayton holds a B.A. from Wake Forest University. After earning her M.A. in children’s literature at Hollins, she completed her M.F.A. in creative writing at The New School. A former secondary school teacher and elementary and middle school librarian, she is co-founder of CAKE Literary, which is described as “a creative kitchen whipping up decadent – and decidedly diverse – literary confections for middle grade, young adult, and women’s fiction readers,” and is also chief operating officer of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books. Her other works include The Belles (her debut solo novel, released in 2018) and The Everlasting Rose (Book Two in The Belles series, published in 2019). She has also contributed to the story collections Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America; Meet Cute: Some People Are Destined to Meet; and Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens. Her middle grade fantasy series, The Marvellers, is forthcoming. She joined the faculty of Hollins’ graduate programs in children’s literature in 2020.