Tomi Adeyemi: “We need a black fantasy book every month” | Fantastic children’s books (children and adolescents)


It has been called the greatest first fantasy novel of 2018, making comparisons to everything from Game Of Thrones To Black Panther, and landed a seven-figure movie deal.

But Tomi Adeyemi, the 24-year-old Nigerian-American author Children of blood and bones, says that such success was the last thing she thought of when she sat down to write her epic story of an oppressive world where magic was prohibited.

“Over the past 10 months I have spent a lot of time thinking, is this real?” she says. “I had a lot of different reasons for writing the book, but at the root of it was the desire to write for black teenage girls who grew up reading books they didn’t have. It was my childhood experience. Children of blood and bones is a chance to tackle that. Say you are seen.

Adeyemi is the middle child of three – her brother is a musician and her younger sister is still in college. Her father is a doctor, while her mother runs a group of hospices outside of Chicago. She studied English Literature at Harvard before traveling to Brazil on a scholarship to study West African culture and mythology. It is in South America that the seeds of Children of blood and bones, the first in a trilogy, were sown.

“I was in a gift shop there and the African gods and goddesses were portrayed in such a beautiful and sacred way… it really made me think of all the beautiful pictures we never see with black people. ”

She describes the story – which follows the fisherman’s daughter Zelie and an unlikely group of allies and enemies on a quest to awaken magic in the land of Orïsha – as “an allegory of modern black experience.” It is inspired by both West African mythology and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Every moment of violence in the book is based on real footage,” she says, explaining that an early scene in which Zélie is attacked by a guard was inspired by the notorious video of a policeman. pushing a teenage girl to the ground at a pool party in Texas. “It’s not my intention to be free, but I want people to know that these things happen and that the actual videos are much worse.”

Adeyemi isn’t the only young author to use fantasy to merge personal stories with political themes. Justina Ireland is eagerly awaited Dread nation, another American Civil War story with added zombies, is released in the United States next month. Dhonielle Clayton’s The pretty, a dark tale of beauty, obsession and magic, was released in the UK in February.

Meanwhile, the conclusion of Daniel José Older’s acclaimed film Shadowform The trilogy, which follows a diverse group of Brooklyn teens as they battle the dark forces, both magical and human, is due out next year.

“In my perfect world, we would have a dark fantasy book every month,” Adeyemi says. “We need them, and we need great black boys stories too.”

Does she feel this Children of blood and bones is a fix needed, given how white the current fantasy is? “Oh yeah,” she laughs. “It makes my blood boil – the idea that it’s perfectly okay to have a Dragon Queen but you can’t have a black person.”

“This is why the success of [the recent Marvel movie] Black Panther has been so important – black and marginalized audiences get to see themselves as heroes portrayed in a beautiful and empowering way, and white audiences get to see new stories being told, and it becomes easier for them to imagine a black superhero. Imagination is a fun thing – sometimes we need to see something before we can really imagine it. “

It is clear that the film version of Children of blood and bones, which was chosen as the Waterstones Book of the Month for March, Must Have a Black Director: “It’s a deeply, deeply personal thing – there are parts of the book black people get instantly because they’ve experienced it. . ” But, she cautions, it’s important that people don’t use young adult fiction as a quick fix.

“We can’t Obama here, where we have a black president, so suddenly the racism is healed, then eight years later the Nazis are marching up and people are starting to say, ‘Maybe we have a racial problem'” , she says. “Our books aren’t here to magically fix publishing, but maybe they will initiate the changes so that in six months we will have more great stories, where we see each other and get heard. . “

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is published by Macmillan Children’s Books, £ 7.99

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