The 2022 Walter Awards & Symposium will be held on Thursday, June 23 at 10:30 AM, both in-person and via livestream. For event details, go here.
By Nawal Qarooni
Today we’re honored to welcome Eden Royce to the WNDB blog to discuss Root Magic, for which she is a 2022 Walter Honoree in the Younger Readers category.
What was the inspiration behind Root Magic?
Root Magic is the first book I’ve ever written. Before it, I was firmly a short story writer. So Root Magic itself started out as a short story. Then I realized I had more to say about these characters and the world, and I wanted to bring readers into the place where I grew up because I didn’t see many books set on a sea island off the coast of South Carolina. I was accepted into Writing in the Margins, which paired experienced writers with new writers to mentor them for a summer. During that mentorship, I realized I wanted Root Magic to be a novel. But I was totally intimidated by the idea of writing that much on one project. I thought, how do people do that? How is that possible? Little by little I connected the short stories, and moved and shifted them around, and eventually I came up with a book that is now called Root Magic.
One of the things that was important for me to incorporate was ancestry. It wasn’t something that was in the literature I came into contact with, but it was important for me to include that because so often, kids feel alone in things. Anything that makes them feel isolated from the kids around them and can be a source of anxiety. I wanted kids to have a sense of belonging early on. Because that is such a crucial thing that gives kids confidence, and makes them feel they can address and handle anything that comes their way. There will be hard decisions that come their way, even as kids. I want them to think: there is someone in my history who may have dealt with this or can guide me, so I can stand firm in my decision because of the support.
In much of popular media, rootwork and hoodoo are portrayed as evil and negative practices. That was never my experience. I grew up with family members who were rootworkers, and they were everyday regular people who had families, jobs, went to church, had hobbies and ties to the community. So much of the things written about conjure magic and root work were written by people outside of the community. They didn’t have an understanding of the practices, so it was important that I portray it as a way to protect those you love, hold onto your ancestral ties, and keep people together.
What do you hope for readers?
Early in the process of writing this novel, I was asked what age group I was writing this for. As someone who has previously exclusively written for adult readers, I spent a lot of time thinking about this question. Finally, I realized I wanted this book to be for younger readers. I hoped I could introduce characters who can be sympathized with and empathized with. It’s so important early on for kids to build empathy for others and hopefully that will lead to adults who have more empathy for the community at large.
I also hope Root Magic gives people a way to talk about difficult things with kids—whether it’s racism, classism, bullying, police brutality. Sometimes when things are difficult to discuss, we think there will be time later. But it’s easy for kids to come across these topics, unfiltered, before parents get the chance to broach them. Hopefully Root Magic will give people a springboard for discussing these issues.
What does the warm reception of Root Magic, including the Walter Award, mean to you as a creator?
I’m blown away, to be honest. I’m overwhelmed and delighted with the reception Root Magic has gotten. That We Need Diverse Books felt that my book was worthy to be a Walter Award Honoree is amazing.
It means a great deal that people resonated with the Gullah Geechee community I portrayed in the book, the twins themselves, and what they went through. So much of the book is based on real life experiences of my different family members. The perception persists that people from the Sea Islands of the Gullah Geechee Corridor and speak Gullah as their first language are uneducated or undereducated. This perception also can extend to people from the American South in general. I wanted to show that isn’t the case. When I was growing up, I’d also never read a book set in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. And who doesn’t want to see themselves in a book?
Eden Royce is a writer from Charleston, SC, now living in the garden of England. She is a Shirley Jackson Award finalist for her short fiction for adults. Her debut novel Root Magic is a 2022 Walter Dean Myers Award Honoree and a Nebula Award Finalist for outstanding children’s literature. Find her online at https://linktr.ee/edenroyce.
Nawal Qarooni is an educator, literacy coach and writer who supports schools in a holistic approach to literacy instruction. The proud daughter of immigrants, mothering four young multiethnic kids very much shapes the way she understands education. She is a former newspaper reporter and is a contributing writer for We Need Diverse Books. You can find her reading aloud to her kids, biking around Chicago’s Logan Square, or on Twitter @NQCLiteracy. Learn more about her work at NQCLiteracy.com.