“Grandmother of fantasy” Jewell Parker Rhodes discusses her work

ASU professor Jewell Parker Rhodes is an author who’s been called the “Grandmother of fantasy.” she has published numerous books with a focus on African American heritage and spiritual traditions. Earlier today she joined us to talk about her accomplishments and what’s ahead in her career.

Rhodes’ stories draw heavily from African and African-American traditional spirituality learned from her own grandmother, who was a heavy inspiration for her own works.

“I was raised by my grandmother, and she was actually a Voodoo lady. She believed in the Southern African roots of folklore healing, natural remedies, and she also told me a lot of African oral stories,” Rhodes said. “And my very first novel was the idea that , who was this Voodoo Queen? Most people start from the assumption that she’s a charlatan, a fake, but I started with the premise of why couldn’t a Black woman make miracles? Why couldn’t she be fantastical, in an awe-inspiring way?”

While she absorbed a lot from her time with her grandmother, it wasn’t until much later that Rhodes set out to put the oral traditions into modern novels.

“I didn’t actually know that Black people wrote books. It wasn’t until I was a junior in college when I saw a Black author in the library, and I read Corregidora by Gayle Jones, that I realized that I could be a writer.”  Rhodes said. “I immediately went back to all the tales and all the stories that my grandmother told me, and I began my research,”

Rhodes said that she tries to convey truth in her fiction, despite the stories themselves being made up.

“A fiction writer writes and tells, in a sense, lies, made up stories, but I’m also going for the emotional truth of what these past historical characters may have felt or believed in, so I channel that. I don’t plot, I don’t know sometimes how the book is going to end, I embody it like an actress. I call what I do Dramatic Fiction Writing, and I’m always trying to put that passion on the page, and I think that’s why readers respond so well.”

“Ghost Boys”, a story of Black boys who have been killed due to racism is currently being made into a motion picture by Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures.

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Jewell Parker Rhodes \ Professor at ASU and Author

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