Tomi Adeyemi: ‘We need a black girl fantasy book every month’ By Sarah Hughes
But Tomi Adeyemi, the 24-year-old Nigerian-American author of Children of Blood and Bone, says that such success was the last thing on her mind when she sat down to write her epic tale of an oppressive world where magic has been outlawed.
“For the past 10 months I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, is this for real?” she says. “I had a lot of different reasons for writing the book but at its core was the desire to write for black teenage girls growing up reading books they were absent from. That was my experience as a child. Children of Blood and Bone is a chance to address that. To say you are seen.”
Adeyemi is the middle child of three – her brother is a musician and her younger sister still at college. Her father is a doctor, while her mother runs a group of hospices outside Chicago. She studied English literature at Harvard before heading to Brazil on a fellowship to study west African culture and mythology. It was in South America that the seeds of Children of Blood and Bone, the first in a trilogy, were sown.
“I was in a gift shop there and the African gods and goddesses were depicted in such a beautiful and sacred way … it really made me think about all the beautiful images we never see featuring black people.”
She describes the story – which follows fisherman’s daughter Zélie and an unlikely band of allies and enemies on a quest to reawaken magic in the country of Orïsha – as “an allegory for the modern black experience”. It draws inspiration from both west African mythology and the Black Lives Matter movement.
It makes my blood boil that it’s totally fine to have a queen of the dragons but you can’t possibly have a black person
“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 police officer pushing a teenage girl to the ground at a pool party in Texas. “It’s not my intention to be gratuitous but I want people to be aware that these things are happening and that the actual videos are much worse.”