Tomi Adeyemi is a grenade of ideas. It’s impossible not to feel that way after spending an hour with you. The Nigerian-American author is only 24 years old, but her first book, “Children of Blood and Bone” (Rocco), already has a deal with Paramount to become a movie – and shooting is expected to start soon. And the most interesting? The story’s inspiration came after a trip to Brazil, which she took seven years ago, when she met the Orixás.
“This book series wouldn’t exist without Brazil. It all started in a souvenir shop in Bahia. I was inside the store avoiding getting my hair wet because of the heavy rain and I saw the ceramic figures of the Orixás. I didn’t know what they were , but it inspired me a lot. They looked like African gods and, in my imagination, that possibility didn’t even exist”, he said in an interview with universe on his visit to Brazil. According to her, it was the figures that made a galactic explosion of imagination in her head.
A graduate in English literature from Harvard, the trip was a graduation award she received at the university. She could choose a place in the world where the trip could be related to her study. A black woman with clear convictions of racism and pride in her race, she chose Salvador to visit the Afro-Brazilian Cultural Museum. “Salvador has the largest population of Nigerians outside Nigeria. I mixed in, they only knew I was a foreigner when they spoke to me,” she says.
The trip lasted only 10 days, but it was crucial to Tomi’s writing career – and she knows it. For them, meeting Salvador was like finding a lost treasure in their own backyard, even though she had to travel to do so.
“Brazil and the United States have interesting parallels about slavery. You received 10 times as many slaves as the US, but you dealt with racial mixing differently. Segregation in the United States created a very strong African-American identification in the population.” There, if you have a black ancestor, a drop of blood, you are already considered a black person. Here, this is not so strong. But both countries have police brutality and structural racism”, says Tomi.
Racism in the Imagination
Tomi’s books have won many awards. The first in the trilogy was chosen as Amazon’s “Book of the Year”, won the 2018 Nebula Award, in the Andre Norton Award for Excellence for Young Adult Fantasy or Science Fiction Book, and the 2019 Hugo Award, in the Award category. Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book, in addition to spending 50 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. But creating black characters didn’t come naturally. Because of structural racism, and the absence of black women in entertainment, Tomi said she couldn’t even create characters similar to her.
“I know how important it is to have a black girl on the cover of the book. I erased myself from my imagination for 10 years. In my stories, my characters were white or biracial. I internalized that there couldn’t be someone like me even in my imagination. , because I never saw myself in the eyes of others. Everything we see affects us”, he says. By writing only for herself, the author says that no one ever warned her about it.
“There were no characters of black women to inspire me when I was a child, so I wrote without myself being present. It’s very sad. Writing gives me evidence of my subconscious and that was my first war”, she says.
She seeks, with her stories that are focused on the teenage audience, to bring comfort in difficult times. “The book is meant to be a safe place. And that’s what I want to create with mine. And give a place to leave, an escape, especially now in this moment we’re living in”, she says.
Determination is your forte
A fan of Anitta, for seeing her as an inspiration and a great entrepreneur, and of Harry Potter, for having the great battles of history as a reference, Tomi is a very determined woman. And asked if this is about her personality or being a black woman in the industry, she points out that what she loves most about her is her anger, as she is crucial to her struggle. So, how “there would be no Anitta without her pains”, as she says.
“I’m always angry. I’ve always been this way. The higher I get, the more reason I have to feel this way. The harder I work, the more I realize there’s still a lot to be done. I’m in the middle of the industry, in the rooms with the biggest Hollywood producers and successful people. I see in real time how I’m erased from the stories, if that makes any sense,” says Tomi. According to her, now that she has entered this cinematographic world and she is understanding closely how the black woman is seen at the time of being included.
“This system ensures that people like me are neither in the movies nor in the books. It ensures that we only have one Viola Davis and only one Octavia Spencer. I am personally offended by these content creators, who when they think of the world, they put the woman black in a caricatured way, while the white ones have complex characters”, he explains.
Despite having a clear vision of how the industry works, she is overjoyed that her books are going to hit the big screen. “There’s a line in Anitta’s Netflix documentary that says she left Brazil to conquer the world. That’s how I feel. It’s insane to live all this. My books wouldn’t have been born if I hadn’t traveled here seven years ago. It makes me excited to return to the country as I write the third book and work on the script for the film, which begins filming in mid-2023,” she says. In addition to being a screenwriter, she is also the executive director of the production.