YA author Tomi Adeyemi is one of the eight people we're watching in 2019. Click here to see our full list, and buy a print copy of The Now Issue here.
Tomi Adeyemi doesn’t live in a fantasy world, she just writes compellingly about one. Children of Blood and Bone, the first book in her young adult trilogy, was published in 2018 to acclaim, big sales, and a movie deal already in the works. In March, the second book in Adeyemi’s Legacy of Orïsha trilogy, based on West African mythology and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, will hit stores. We spoke to her about why the books’ themes are perpetually relevant.
In July you tweeted that police came to your home and demanded you let them in to answer questions. When you asked for a warrant they threatened to rip the hinges off the door. It feels like a great irony that you’re writing a trilogy inspired by Black Lives Matter and then you have this real life experience.
It’s not a great irony at all. The entire point is that it’s not ironic that I’m writing this series and that’s what happened. I can see a clear delineation in responses between my readers of color and my white readers. My white readers were horrified and didn’t understand how this could happen. My black readers totally understood how this could happen.
Even though I want to write an epic fantasy trilogy, I want people to know that there are real lives behind this. When I tell people I don’t know if I’m gonna live to finish the trilogy, it’s not a morbid, artistic thing. When I do things, I can’t not think about my mortality. Every time I see a cop car I know it doesn’t take that much to be the end of my life.
People need to know that this happens and they need to see the humans behind it. My readers need to know that their crazy jellybean-loving, wombat suit-dancing author they feel so connected to is black in America.
March 5 is the release date for Children of Virtue and Vengeance, the second book in your trilogy. How are you feeling about it?
I think a lot of people think the book is written. Often I’ll interact with people on social media and the person will be like, “It’s done, right?” And I’m like, “No! I’m writing this right now. We’re all on this adventure together.”
So how far are you into the writing process?
I have the second draft, which is the hardest for me because that’s where the story really comes together. It’s kind of like building a house. You need to to put the house up before you can be like, “Actually the kitchen tiling is awful.” So the house is up, and I have a list of things I know I need to fix, but I have to write scene by scene. I’ll walk around my house to fix things, then I’m gonna work with my editor to fix things. The first book took 40 drafts. I don’t think this one will take 40 drafts, but I’ll need to get two more drafts in before I know if the book will be done by draft seven or draft 20.
Do you think YA is more progressive than mainstream adult fiction?
In publishing, it’s the same faces and people of the same backgrounds who are making the decisions. No book has been #1 [on The New York Times’s YA bestseller list] as long as The Hate U Give. There is so much concrete proof that not only is work by people of color important, but it’s marketable. The only thing more American to me than racism is capitalism. But even though there’s a clear financial incentive to do the right thing, people of color are still being told, “Oh, we already have our black book.”
But we do have a more progressive reading audience: young people care. I’m a cynical person, but I get to meet all of these incredible young people and I see their passion and empathy, and their genuine desire to do good. I wish I could show people what I see because if you don’t see it then it just seems like we’re heading somewhere bad. But when you see these kids and how amped they are to get in the world and make their mark, it feels like we’re gonna be fine.