Nigerian-American Tomi Adeyemi's debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone, is the first volume of the Orïsha Legacy trilogy. The book follows an African teen, Zélie, as she attempts to restore magic to her homeland, Orïsha, after an evil king killed all those who wielded it, including Zélie's mother. Despite Adeyemi's youth—she's just 24—her novel was arguably the most buzzed about YA book to be released this year. Holt acquired Adeyemi's manuscript in 2017 for a reported seven figures, one of the biggest deals in YA history. Children of Blood and Bone was released in March, and the first installment of the film adaptation of the trilogy is in the works.
I've read that ‘Children of Blood and Bone' was inspired by racist Hunger Games fans, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Charleston church shooting. Is that accurate?
It's accurate to say that they all inspired my mission as a writer, but this book started the way every book starts—from a creative place. I knew I wanted to write something about police brutality, and I also had this big African fantasy idea. I asked my boyfriend, "Which one should I write first?" And he said, "I think it's actually the same book." He was right.
Is writing a form of activism for you?
I've always written for myself, and I've always written the stories I want to read. So writing really is just a part of me and it's what I would do no matter what. But it definitely has become my sword and my way of fighting back. This book also came from a place of hopelessness and fear, and I'm still given reasons to feel that way every single day. But writing fulfills me—and I'm lucky that it has become this thing that helps me fight back against all those horrible things, and all those things that make me feel so scared and afraid, or make me feel like I won't live to finish the trilogy.
Is it true that it took you just one month to write ‘Children of Blood and Bone?'
I wrote the first draft in a month, the second draft in a month, and then it was roughly a new draft a month for about 18 months. It came together weekly, but not fast. I wrote it really fast. I revised it really fast, but it wasn't like, "Oh, yay! Everything's just coming to me." There was a lot of pain involved.
So you don't consider ‘Children of Blood and Bone' an overnight success story?
No. When I talk to writers, I'm like, "Let's remember. I spent four years on a book [her unpublished novel The Keepers] that went nowhere. I spent four years to just get rejected." At the time, I wasn't like, "Yeah, girl, you'll get it. You'll get it with the next one." I was desperate with my first book. I was crushed for a really long time that it wasn't published.
You grew up reading Harry Potter and now you are being compared to J.K. Rowling. How does that feel?
I'm still kind of getting used to it. But a friend and I were talking about Harry Potter the other day, and she was like, "What if Harry Potter had been black?" And that made me think, "Would we have kids like Tamir Rice shot in a park?" No. Not if everyone had grown up loving this black child and wanting him to live. With Children of Blood and Bone and movies like Black Panther, it's a little bit easier for people to picture what that looks like now, but there's so much room for more.
Today, 10:15–11 a.m. Tomi Adeyemi will participate in the "We Need Diverse Books" panel, in Room 1E10. Today, 11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Adeyemi will be in the Autographing Area.