It was long ago when I stopped being “starstruck.” Fresh out of college, this little Northern Virginia girl (that’s me) moved to the big city. The real big city, as in New York City, and got a big city job in public relations (PR). (In college, I was a Communications major with a PR/journalism focus and had lofty ambitions of using PR to do great things in the world, like work on political campaigns and lobby for Greenpeace.) The reality of PR in NYC was nothing at all like I imagined.
I spent my days looking up phone numbers for journalists so the seasoned PR people could pitch them stories about jewelry lines, high-fashion stores and “health” shakes. I also put my kindergarten skills to work literally cutting and pasting news articles onto memos. The best part was calling journalists, most of whom hung up on me immediately. (Note the sarcasm in case it’s not clear.) Again, not at all the “change the world” type of work I’d fantasized about in my head.
There were, however, big, star-studded flashy events often associated with PR in New York. Events where the gift bags, which I usually got to sample, were often things like Coach totes filled with gift certificates to spas, expensive perfume and Laura Mercer lipstick. I’d work the door of the events, a line stretching down the street on a cool night, wielding “the list” of who could get in like it actually had some sort of power.
It was at these events where I met the stars: sports stars, music stars, film stars and TV stars. Most of whom walked around as if anyone who hadn’t been flung into the entertainment sky to shine should be cowering below it. That isn’t to say they were all terrible and mean. It was simply they were stars and the rest of us were the people on the ground who gazed up at them in wonder.
It was simply they were stars and the rest of us were the people on the ground who gazed up at them in wonder.
This long introduction to my blog is to say, that experience cured me of being starstruck. After having enough celebrities throw their jackets in your face to hang them up without even looking at you, you become disillusioned with their starlight. When my husband sees celebrities, usually at the airport these days, he snaps a picture excitedly and shows me when he gets home. At which point, I usually shrug and say “that’s cool I guess?” or “who’s that?” I threw out my celebrity telescope a long time ago.
I threw out my celebrity telescope a long time ago.
I was convinced I could no longer be starstruck. Until Tomi Adeyemi.
There’s been a lot of hype around Adeyemi’s book Children of Blood and Bone. Before it came out the buzz was so loud it was deafening. I even pre-ordered my copy, something I’ve never done before. (There are so many books to read, I’ve never felt I needed to preorder one.) But this book seemed different.
Before it even came out the buzz was so loud it was deafening.
The part of me that despises anything popular fought against pre-ordering. (This is the part of me that cringed when I heard a song by my once favorite band, Portugal. The Man., in a soundtrack on TV.) I like the strange and obscure. Children of Blood and Bone, already with a movie deal, seemed like the opposite of strange and obscure.
Still, I was intrigued by an author receiving the kind of star treatment I used to see reserved for those sports and movie stars, especially an author with a debut novel, a fantasy YA novel that wasn’t Harry Potter, and especially an African American female author. It wasn’t strange and obscure. But it seemed unique and important. So I pre-ordered.
It wasn’t strange and obscure. But it seemed unique and important. So I pre-ordered.
Then I noticed Adeyemi would be at a local book festival in Northern Virginia (aka, NoVa as we call it here in Virginia) called NoVa Teen Book Festival. (Aptly named as you can see.) It’s a great book festival organized and sponsored by a local bookstore, One More Page Books.
I already planned to attend NoVa Teen with my daughter. I’d signed up to participate in an author/educator mixer and, while there, we planned to check out some of the speakers. I figured my daughter and I would breeze in sometime before my noon event and then decide if we wanted to see anything else.
I’d been so busy leading up to the festival, I hadn’t even looked to see the line-up until a few days before. When I saw Adeyemi would be part of the first panel, I decided “breezing in” wasn’t an option. We needed to arrive when the doors opened at 9:00 am. (If you understand how much I cherish sleeping in on Saturdays, you might understand how big of a deal it was for me to get up before 8:00 am on a weekend.)
When we arrived, my daughter and I took seats with our friends. Adeyemi was one of four women on the panel discussing fantasy books. Every author was incredible. My favorite quotes included when Audrey Coulthurst said something like, “the original title of my book was Gay Princess Pony Palooza.” And Adeyemi joked about how the solution to inserting diversity into fantasy books used to be adding “two Asian elves and two African American elves” into the background. Both comments got big laughs.
The panel kept the rapt of attention of me and my daughter, who is notoriously difficult to impress. The panelists were honest, poignant, thought-provoking and funny. I left the room wanting to buy every single book from each of the women. [Note: If you’re interested, the panel included Tomi Adeyemi (CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE), Susan Dennard (SIGHTWITCH: A TALE OF THE WITCHLANDS), Audrey Coulthurst (INKMISTRESS), A.C. Gaughen (REIGN THE EARTH)] And I did buy a few. We, not surprisingly, came home with a giant stack of books.
I left the room wanting to buy every single book from each of the women.
After that, Adeyemi had a one-on-one interview with Dhonielle Clayton (author of The Belles). During the discussion, Adeyemi dove into her world-building and her inspiration for the book (a poster of Orisha gods.) She spoke of how after the shootings of so many unarmed black men, like Philando Castile, she cried and cried. She was heartbroken, afraid to get into her car and drive to her job. With the help of loved ones, she learned to channel that pain and fear into her writing and hoped her words could have an impact on the world. (Full disclosure: I just finished the book and she does an excellent job of weaving these emotions and important lessons into her story.)
In addition, it was interesting to hear how she described her writing process as writing fan fiction of herself, explaining she writes the things she wants for herself in the world. For example, she wants a dog, but can’t have one right now so she created giant animal companions in her book for her characters.
…she described her writing process as writing fan fiction of herself…
Adeyemi discussed heavy topics like the treatment of African Americans in America and their representations in literature and film along with lighter topics, such as her Harry Potter House. (She’s a Slytherin). She was lovely and engaging and so smart I kept thinking, I could never possibly be as smart or as incredible as this woman. But I am so happy this wonderful, intelligent, creative, pensive, African American female writer is getting this kind of attention. It’s about time.
I may have stopped being starstruck long ago, but I left the NoVa Teen Book Festival struck by the light, not just Tomi Adeyemi brings into the world, but of all the female writers I saw on stage. They’re the kinds of women we should be trying more and more to launch into the stratosphere to shine.