I remember when you debuted with Hoodoo! It seems like just last year, but that was back in 2015. What have you been doing since then?
Well, I’ve been adjusting to the life of a full-time writer. It’s not as easy and productive as one might think. It takes a lot of discipline, and every day it’s challenging. But I try to remember how fortunate I am to have this opportunity.
Do you feel a shift in publishing with regards to opportunities for authors of color? Are you noticing a change in the opportunities or in the conversations?
Both. I think a lot of brave souls have stepped up and made the case for better representation and transparency in publishing when it comes to diversity. On one side we’re seeing lots of amazing new voices, which is great, but we also need to make sure that young people and those entering the professional work force see publishing as a viable career path. Sometimes we see things and say: How could this have happened? Was there not one person in the room to say, “Wait a minute, this cover is a stereotype,” or “Where’s the diversity in this list?” That’s where it really matters.
Black Panther!! That’s pretty awesome! How did that opportunity come about?
Awesome, indeed. I still can’t believe it. My agent, Adriann Ranta-Zurhellen at Foundry Literary +Media, called me with the offer from Marvel. Of course, I said YES! It was an amazing opportunity and I was honored to work on it. It was great to work with the folks at Marvel/Disney including my editor, Hannah Allaman. I’m happy I was able to write about one of my favorite characters of all time.
What about T’Challa, the young Black Panther, do you think will resonate with young readers?
He’s a kid. He has expectations put upon him, just like your average kid has. But he’s also extremely wealthy and has had opportunities that a lot of others haven’t. He’s also trying to make his way in a strange new world—navigating middle school, making friends, exploring the world around him. His hopes and fears are the same as any ordinary kid. Except he’s a prince from a wealthy nation, which actually makes it a little more difficult.
Who are your favorite comic book heroes, besides Black Panther, of course?
Silver Surfer, Luke Cage, The Avengers, of course. Ms. Marvel is doing some great stuff.
You seem to really enjoy horror and suspense. What were some of the books and movies that fed your appetite for this when you were younger? And what now?
It’s really interesting. I never set out to be a horror writer. Hoodoo had a horror element to it, but I thought of it as more of a southern gothic story. As a young person, I read Stephen King and Clive Barker, as well as the Old Guard like Edgar Allan Poe. I also liked the work of Tananarive Due. I grew up in the 70s, and that was a great time for horror movies: Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Sentinel, The Omen, so many other good ones. And cults. You got to have a good cult movie to round it out. Not cult as in underground but as in: “Oh my god he’s in a cult!” The original Wicker Man and Race with the Devil creeped me out.
What else do you see yourself writing? Would you stick with middle grade?
When I first got started I wrote short stories. I guess you’d call it literary fiction. The type of story you’d see in The Paris Review or The New Yorker.
I was inspired by writers like James Baldwin, Raymond Carver, Francine Prose, Tobias Wolff and others.
I definitely want to write outside of the middle-grade category. I love it, but I also have some YA ideas as well as ones that would be called literary. We shall see what the future holds!
What makes you shine? What do you do that you feel is vital and gives you energy?
When I see how cool and supportive the YA and kidlit community is.
That first spark of a new idea.
Coming up with a cool title for a prospective novel.
Seeing your friends succeed.
Visiting schools and nourishing young minds.
Helping other writers.
You can connect with Ronald on
Black Panther the Young Prince (Marvel) was released on 2 Jan 2018.
Black Panther. Ruler of Wakanda. Avenger.This is his destiny. But right now, he’s simply T’Challa-the young prince.Life is comfortable for twelve-year-old T’Challa in his home of Wakanda, an isolated, technologically advanced African nation. When he’s not learning how to rule a kingdom from his father-the reigning Black Panther-or testing out the latest tech, he’s off breaking rules with his best friend, M’Baku. But as conflict brews near Wakanda, T’Challa’s father makes a startling announcement: he’s sending T’Challa and M’Baku to school in America.This is no prestigious private academy-they’ve been enrolled at South Side Middle School in the heart of Chicago. Despite being given a high-tech suit and a Vibranium ring to use only in case of an emergency, T’Challa realizes he might not be as equipped to handle life in America as he thought. Especially when it comes to navigating new friendships while hiding his true identity as the prince of a powerful nation, and avoiding Gemini Jones, a menacing classmate who is rumored to be involved in dark magic.When strange things begin happening around school, T’Challa sets out to uncover the source. But what he discovers in the process is far more sinister than he could ever have imagined. In order to protect his friends and stop an ancient evil, T’Challa must take on the mantle of a hero, setting him on the path to becoming the Black Panther.
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