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Black Art at Rice: Doyin Aderele talks writing, magical realism

Mark Munyi / Thresher

By Shreya Challa     2/20/24 10:04pm

Drawing inspiration from her Nigerian heritage and ancient Yoruba culture, Doyin Aderele is currently working on her senior seminar project, an African fantasy novel that she has been developing for a year. Aderele, a senior at Sid Richardson College, has been studying creative writing since her freshman year at Rice and mostly writes fiction, focusing on fantasy and magical realism. 

“I started writing when I was in middle school… The stories I wrote weren’t very good, but it just really stuck with me. I’ve always been a big reader [of] fantasy and mythology novels like Percy Jackson,” Aderele said. “I first started involving myself in magic realism seriously in my junior year. I took a fairy tale class [called] Fairytales and Fear Tales … It inspired me to put my own twist on writing fairy tales.”

Growing up as a reader, Aderele said that it was always hard to find characters and stories that she could see herself in. 

“As I started getting more into writing, I really wanted to see more of myself. I started writing stories that surrounded black characters and different cultures to contribute to the growth of the genre of Black fiction,” Aderele said. “I’ve been reading more authors in those realms lately, and I just really want to be a little bit more a part of that genre, because I think it’s really important to have that representation in books and art.”

Along with Nigerian and Yoruba culture, Aderele said that her inspiration comes from fantasy writers like Octavia Butler and Tomi Adeyemi, the author of “Children of Blood and Bone.” She’s also benefited from workshopping her senior seminar project with fellow cohort members.

“Before, all my writing [was] a pretty solo experience. I’ve just written stuff and then revised on my own a little, but I think working with other people has been really eye-opening and helpful,” Aderele said. “I’ve been able to not only share my work with others and get good feedback, I’ve also been able to read my fellow cohort members’ work, assist them and then get a little bit of inspiration for myself. It’s been a good experience.” 

As an English major, Aderele said that she has been able to focus more on taking her writing seriously by taking fiction-writing classes under published, award-winning professors like Bryan Washington and Kiese Laymon.

“[Writing] used to be a hobby I did on the side. But now I’ve seen that I really want to take it seriously and perhaps make it a career in the future,” Aderele said. “Reading [my professors’] work and learning from them, I’ve been able to figure out my own voice. I think taking these classes has been a great influence on my personal writing.”

Aderele’s recent short story, inspired by her own experiences, tells the story of a young girl who travels back home to Nigeria for her grandfather’s funeral. The protagonist struggles with her identity, her relationship with her father and her  sense of belonging in a culture that feels both familiar and foreign. According to Aderele, it was one of her favorite pieces to write.

“Sometimes you feel like an outcast or just distinct from your own culture when you’re not always involved in or engrossed in that culture,” Aderele said. “I think as I’m writing, it doesn’t feel as personal but then once I get through it, I find connections to my own life. I like to look at my personal experiences and feel how I felt or things I saw and try to weave that in just to make it feel a little bit more real.”

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