Adeyemi returns home with a message
Best-selling author, Hall of Fame inductee highlights teachers who encouraged her
Last updated 10/6/2021 at 2:31pm | View PDF
Celebrity does not seem to have changed Tomi Adeyemi.
Sitting in the home of junior high school friend Shannon Ruge, Adeyemi does not come across as the author of two New York Times best-sellers who has a movie deal on her first book, was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People and has appeared on TV news and talk shows.
The 28-year-old who returned to her hometown to be inducted into the Hinsdale Central Hall of Fame is first and foremost a student, daughter, sister and friend who is grateful to all the people who helped her on her journey.
"Honestly, I think the most important thing is giving thanks to all the people who nurtured me as a youth," she said of the reason why it was important to her to fly in from LA for the ceremony.
"I also knew I was very lucky to grow up in a place with such passionate educators and I really feel fortunate for my high school experience," the 2011 graduate added. "This is where I was a seed and look at all the people who watered the seed and all the things that have happened since."
Adeyemi offered a long list of teachers who influenced her at Central, many of whom did not work in the English department. She said learning from great teachers is important, no matter what the subject matter.
"What you experience in high school doesn't directly put you on the track for what you'll make waves for in the professional world," she said. "Honestly it's not about the subject, it's about the teacher."
Adeyemi has been writing since early elementary school, when the practice offered her the ability to control reality - at least on the page.
"You want a horse, you want a twin, you want a sari. The best and fastest way to get those things is to write a story where you have those things," she said, adding that it took a long time for her to consider herself a writer and understand that she could make a living as one.
After graduating from Hinsdale Central and then Harvard University, she had a stint working for a film production company but soon realized she was not passionate about it.
"I didn't see a path forward," she said. "It was because I was so unhappy with my job that I started aggressively writing."
Her goal? To be able to have a book deal and pay her mortgage by the time she was 30.
"I didn't know what a mortgage was but I knew it was something you had to pay at the age of 30," she said with a laugh.
Her first book was never published but her second, "Children of Blood and Bone," debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times Young Adult Hardcover Bestseller List in March 2018. The epic fantasy pays tribute to her Nigerian heritage (her parents, Ronke Champion-Adeyemi and Dr. Yomi Adeyemi, emigrated here before she was born) and has been described as a cross between "Harry Potter," "The Chronicles of Narnia" and Yoruba gods.
She recalled one friend who was obsessed with "Lord of the Rings" and asked a question that really put things in perspective for her.
" 'Do you ever think about the fact that your book is that for someone?' " her friend asked.
Another stand-out moment was meeting Whoopi Goldberg at the Met Gala a couple of weeks ago. Adeyemi said she couldn't believe she was hearing Whoopi's voice with her naked ear - or that Whoopi knew who she was.
"That also blew my mind," she said.
She's busy these days finishing the third novel in her trilogy (the second, "Children of Virtue and Vengeance," was published in December 2019) and working with Lucasfilm on the movie version of "Children of Blood and Bone."
"We're still in the development process," she said. "That's the other thing I've learned about movies. These are very hard to get made and get correctly made, which I know has been the desire from the start. There aren't a lot of movies like this."
Knowing there are two more novels that could be made into films puts even more pressure on getting this one right.
"If the first 'Harry Potter' didn't work, we weren't going to get seven more," she said of the film franchise.
Her visit home also gave her the chance to catch up with Ruge, who flew in from Nashville for the event. The two, who have been friends since seventh grade, still giggle like teenagers and clearly appreciate their friendship.
"I'm just crying I'm so proud of her," said Ruge, noting that she had written a 10-minute introductory speech for the Hall of Fame dinner, despite a four-minute limit.
"Shannon was actually the first person to proudly proclaim, 'This is my friend, Tomi. She is going to be famous,' " Adeyemi said. "This is how she introduced me for over a decade."
Turns out Ruge was right.