LaDarrion Williams Brings Magical Education to an HBCU in “Blood at the Root”: 'I'm Excited for Black Boys to See Themselves' (Exclusive)

The new YA fantasy novel brings magical living to an HBCU in an unforgettable young adult adventure

<p>PhotosbyJamaal; Penguin Random House</p> LaDarrion Williams (left), cover art for "Blood at the Root"

PhotosbyJamaal; Penguin Random House

LaDarrion Williams (left), cover art for "Blood at the Root"

LaDarrion Williams is prepared to introduce the world to a story years in the making and dear to his heart.

Blood at the Root, which will be released by Labyrinth Road, an imprint of Penguin RandomHouse on Tuesday, May 7, brings a magical Black narrative to young readers. Williams, a resident playwright and co-creator of The Black Creators Collective, spoke with PEOPLE about his debut novel and the road to bringing this magical space to life.

"Blood at the Root was initially supposed to be a television series, I wrote it as a TV pilot because I'm also a filmmaker and screenwriter," Williams explains. "The idea started as a tweet I just sent out that said, 'What if Harry Potter went to an HBCU?'"

"I thought it'd be really cool to follow this young kid not just through the regular college experience but at an HBCU where there's magic," he adds. "A lot of people on social media asked where are our magical schools and I'm like, 'It's right here.'"

The idea spread quickly across social media, with tons of potential fans showing interest. "So I wrote the TV pilot and I talked about it as part of the #writingcommunity on Twitter. I talked about the process behind it," he adds.

<p>Penguin Random House</p> Cover of LaDarrion Williams' debut novel, "Blood at the Root"

Penguin Random House

Cover of LaDarrion Williams' debut novel, "Blood at the Root"

Fans encouraged Williams to develop it into a short film but while there were tons of fans rooting for him online, when it came to shopping it around to studios, it wasn't quite the same.

"Networks were like, 'That's a cool story but we're not really interested in it right now,' which was really sad because I thought we had something special," Williams says. "[The short film] went viral on YouTube and as time passed, the story just wouldn't leave me alone. Someone said I should consider writing it as a book, but I wasn't sure because, at that point, I'd fallen out of love with reading myself. It just wasn't a space I was seeing myself represented in."

When Williams headed to a bookstore to see how Black boys in fantasy were being portrayed, he noticed they were rarely, if at all, the main characters or a meaningful part of the action.

"This was during the racial tension around George Floyd. I just wanted an escape, a fantastical story about Black boys' magic," he says. "And they didn't really have anything. That's when I knew, 'Okay, I need to write this book.'"

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Williams decided to really put his all into it, taking 12 days straight to work on the first draft. As he refined his draft, he also did his research, trying to figure out "How to get a book off the ground."

"I thought I was going to self-publish the book and put it out there to see what happened," he explains. "My friend persuaded me to pursue traditional publishing because Blood at the Root needs an engine behind it. It needs support because this is a story that young kids needed."

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In January 2023, Penguin RandomHouse offered a three-book deal, and Williams' fantasy world would was set to become a reality.

"I love young adult fantasy because when I was in high school, that was the genre's boom," the author explains. "You saw Twilight get really big and Divergent and Percy Jackson. I really fell in love with fantasy stories."

And Williams hopes that, on the heels of this release, publishers will realize there's a gap to be filled.

<p>PhotosbyJamaal</p> LaDarrion Williams


LaDarrion Williams

"I'm hoping publishers are more open to showcasing young Black boys as main characters," he says. "Not every story is the same. There are different experiences we need to showcase. Young boys should be able to see themselves in the aisles of bookstores. They need to see that they can be vulnerable and still be the heroes of their own stories. That's the message I'd love to get across."

Williams is already seeing the power of Blood at the Root, revealing he's received "so many messages" from people who felt seen after the novel's cover was revealed.

"I had a Black father who said, 'My kid doesn't even read, but he saw your book cover on social media and asked me to get him that book.' I think that's what's important," the author says. "Imagery is so important. It drives home that images and stories are very important for kids and can change their lives. Books changed my life. I hope that in seeing the reaction to this, publishers are more open to showcasing Black boys in fantasy and fiction."

Williams is looking forward to surprising readers with all the possibilities the fantasy genre introduces, plus "some really cool historical facts that a lot of us don't even know."

"There is some time traveling in the book series. We're going to time travel to some histories that we really didn't get to learn about in school and still don't, especially with book-banning," he said.

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"I'm excited for this book to show how a book can change people's lives and what power social media has," Williams says. "I'm excited for Black boys to get back into reading and seeing themselves in this story, and generally as the hero of their own stories and the custodians of their own image."

The author also enjoys the thrill of "seeing other Black writers doing their thing and inspiring me."

"Ryan Coogler's working on the Black vampire film with Michael B. Jordan. Black Panther was inspiring. What Beyoncé is doing with Cowboy Carter is inspiring," he adds. "It's the reclamation of everything. It's inspiring to me and I hope it'll inspire others as well."

Blood at the Root comes out on May 7 and is available for preorder now, wherever books are sold.

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Read the original article on People.