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Portrait of an Artist: Alumna Adeyemi ‘15’s Own ‘Black Panther’ With Magic

Tomi J. Adeyemi ’15 is a Nigerian American YA fantasy author living in San Diego, California. Her first book, “Children of Blood and Bone” comes out March 6. On March 13, Adeyemi will speak in Brookline, Massachusetts at Brookline Booksmith about her debut novel. The Harvard Crimson sat down with her to discuss how her novel tackles real-world racial issues within the context of fantasy.

The Harvard Crimson: Let’s get the most important question out of the way. Thoughts on “Black Panther?”

Tomi J. Adeyemi: Oh, amazing. I’ve seen it twice. I love it so much. It’s funny, I think I loved it even more the second time, because there’s just so much in it. It was like watching the same movie but from a different perspective. I wanted to see it again, but I’m trying to write a sequel [for “Children of Blood and Bone”] right now. I loved it, though. I’m just so happy. Months ago, I said, “‘Black Panther’’s going to come out, and it’s going to be a smash, and I think it’s going to blow open the door for diversity in Hollywood”—but this is way better than anything I could imagine.

THC: Moving on to your book, will you talk a little about what “Children of Blood and Bone” is about? What is its purpose in the world?

TJA: Honestly, it’s funny that you started with “Black Panther,” because the book is just “Black Panther” with magic. Without ruining the movie, it has a take on the real world and the real-world issues that affect black people, and that’s what my book is about. It’s this epic fantasy that puts black people at the forefront. On the one hand, it’s for kids like me—and kids who look like me, and even kids who don’t look like me but also aren’t white—to see that wow, we can do this. We can ride giant lions and fight the bad guy and have these great adventures. And after seeing John Boyega as a black stormtrooper, or diversity in general in “Pacific Rim”—it’s not to say that we had nothing, but we’ve never had anything like this, anything that took us seriously. We never had anything that said, “You are the star. You are Harry Potter. You are Katniss Everdeen.”

So that’s one of my book’s purposes. But as for its other purpose: It’s an allegory for the modern black experience, for people who aren’t black to understand what it’s like to walk in our shoes. I personally believe that books are the closest you can ever get to being inside someone else’s head. So that is what the book is for—to show that, and to make it very clear. Every obstacle in the book is tied to a real obstacle that black people face now, or have faced as recently as a few years ago.

THC: That’s such a huge, political mission! Can you talk about why you chose fantasy to express your message?

TJA: Fantasy is my first love, as it is with a lot of people. There’s a reason we freak out in a special way about “Black Panther,” or “Game of Thrones,” or “Harry Potter”—because we love fantasy! We love magic. We love seeing these big, epic battles. I’ve always loved reading them. That is what I love to spend time with, and what I love to write. As for the underlying purpose of the book, I think that with fantasy, you get to take a step back [from the real world]. It’s an incredible tool for putting out a message like this, because it’s creating a distance that forces people to see inside situations as opposed to being warped by prejudices and racism.

THC: Do you have any other favorite books that do this same job?

TJA: Read “An Ember in the Ashes,” by Sabaa Tahir. I read that book and immediately thought, “I have to write.” Once, when I was talking to a librarian at a book event, she said, “This is going to sound really stupid, but I didn’t realize how truly terrifying slavery was until I read this book.”

THC: What’s next for you?

TJA: I’m working on a sequel. The YA world is kind of on a book-a-year schedule. It’s hectic, but I’m excited with where I’ve been this past year and with where I’m going!

—Staff Writer Iris M. Lewis can be reached at iris.lewis@thecrimson.com

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