Tell us about your most recent book and how you came to write/illustrate it.
My debut novel is Children of Blood and Bone and it comes out on March 6th, 2018. From a creative standpoint, I came to write it by discovering the orisha—West African deities—through a stroke of luck while on a fellowship in Brazil. This gave me the idea for CBB after I discovered a digital painting two years later that gave me the inspiration for the characters and events in the story. From a professional standpoint, I came to write CBB after the first book I tried to get published went nowhere, but solidified for me that I would be most happy writing full-time. Additionally, I was heavily influenced by the tragedy of police brutality and felt compelled to say something about it through my work.
Do you think of yourself as a diverse author/illustrator?
Yes because I’m black and Nigerian-American, and my diverse background has a big impact on what I write, why I write, and the way I write.
Who is your favorite character of all time in children’s or young adult literature?
This is a wonderful question! Wow…I truly don’t know! I could list the characters I would most want to make out with (*cough cough, Kaz Brekker, Elias Veturius, Emmett Atwater) as a teen, but I don’t think I have a favorite character of all time, especially when I’m just getting to meet characters like the ones I mentioned above, or heroines like Starr Carter that I can really see myself in for the first time. Even if I try and think of my favorite character from movies or television shows, it’s difficult (though my mind is going to Prince Zuko…can’t tell if that’s cause he’s actually my favorite or if I’m just in love with him).
So I’ll answer this with there are many characters I love, but I’ve discovered so many new characters that I love in just the past 2-3 years, so I think I’ll need a few more years before my favorite character of all time is an easy answer!
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say you are forced to sell all of the books you own except for one. Which do you keep?
This is another great and challenging question, and I want to cheat and say I would sell everything except my Kindle so that I could keep all the books in one (can you tell there’s a little Slytherin in my Ravenclaw?)
But I guess I would have to say…the first book I ever tried to get published? It didn’t go anywhere so there’s no reference to it, but it was basically my love letter to Harry Potter featuring a misunderstood black girl from Harlem. The reason I would choose that book is because if I could only get lost in one book, I would want it to be a book that my imagination could run wild with, and after re-reading my first book recently, I felt like I was falling into a world that I could still color in and explore. It’s a hard thing to explain, but I loved it. I couldn’t even do that with Children of Blood and Bone.
If that answer doesn’t count, then I’m going to cheat just a little bit and say one book that holds the entire Harry Potter Series.
What does diversity mean to you as you think about your own books? What is your thought process in including or excluding characters of diverse backgrounds?
I’ve been writing and reading my entire life, but because I didn’t see myself in the stories that I was reading, I started erasing myself from the stories I was writing. I went ten years writing white or biracial protagonists because I thought those were the only people who could be in books. Looking back, that breaks my heart. I don’t want any kid from any background to ever be so erased from the representation that they deserve, that they can’t see themselves or someone who looks like them as the heroes.
That is the thought process that drives me when I have my story ideas and when I’m writing. I’m very intentional about the cast of characters I use and how I describe them because I know that my book will give kids a mirror they’ve never had, or a window to see into the lives of someone they wouldn’t get to connect with otherwise.
Tomi Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American writer and creative writing coach based in San Diego, California. After graduating Harvard University with an honors degree in English literature, she studied West African mythology and culture in Salvador, Brazil. Children of Blood and Bone is her debut novel.