Playwright, filmmaker, screenwriter and author LaDarrion Williams is getting in his wizardry bag with his much-anticipated YA novel debut, Blood at the Root.

The first in a three-part novel series, Williams brings Hogwarts-esque excitement to the world of a magical HBCU. Williams floated the idea of a magical HBCU three years ago on social media, and after the huge response from fans thirsty for representation, Williams’ idea is now available for all to read.

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Williams spoke to Blavity via email about his book, which debuts May 7 and is available for pre-order now. He said that not only is he repping the Black fantasy lovers, but also the southern writing tradition, particularly the Alabama writing tradition as a son of Helena, AL.

“You know, it feels really great. I mean, you see all the time people leaving their hometowns to make a better life for themselves, and it’s funny—I’m in the era of ‘don’t forget where you come from,” he said, possibly referencing the fact that even though he’s from Alabama, he’s currently based on Los Angeles. “Because now that I’m from Alabama and writing about it, I just know my upbringing is so infused in my writing it’s not even funny. I’m just really grateful to be a positive change whether it’s small or big.”

If you’re a fan of American magical and supernatural lore, you know that the south is the capital of America’s mysticism. Much of that mysticism, if not all of it, is driven by African traditions that survived the slave ships and became engrained and transformed in a new land. These connections–through vampires, voodoo/vodoun, and other traditional “old wives tales” and superstitions–have been passed down through the generations from the first enslaved people. For a lot of Black southerners, these traditions are one of the few ways they feel connected to Africa. Williams said that it’s “so fascinating to see and learn about spirituality of Black folks. Especially in the South.”

“There is so much poetry in the south. From the way we tell stories and the fact that everything we do was passed down from our ancestors. Just think about it, they were chained, put on boats, and were brought to a new foreign land. But the fact that they took all that strife and trauma and created something that felt familiar, yet new,” he said. “Our grandmothers and grandfathers were alchemists, they were healers and astronomers. And I love how it is infused in even the Black Baptist Church. Some Black folks are even afraid to talk about it because it’s been so demonized in the media since Hollywood began. Or even the act of sitting at the feet of our grandmothers, learning the stories of those who were before us. It’s quite beautiful. Learning all of that, it’s helping me not only with Blood at the Root, but the rest of my book series and even ideas beyond.”

Williams said that he believes the idea for a magical HBCU overwhelming resonated with social media because of the lack of representation in the sci-fi and fantasy genres.

“People want and need more Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories that are not doused in European aesthetics,” he said. “As a Black writer who writes fantasy, we’re constantly being bombarded by tweets and posts on social media where folks are asking ‘where are the Black fantasy films?’ ‘We want to see Black folks play witches and vampires and fairies.’ There’s a need and a deep hunger that’s not being satiated. Which is weird because the more Black fantasy stories, the more Hollywood and publishing will make money. Folks are hungry and we gotta give them what they need!”

The conversation about teenage wizards and witches in a magical school, of course, brings to mind the most popular teenage wizard, Harry Potter. The character was once a golden child of the YA landscape, but author JK Rowling has since put herself on an island by herself thanks to her constantly writing transphobic talking points on social media. As a result, she’s alienated herself from her audience and has put her legacy in question.

Black fans are also split if it’s possible to separate the art from the artist and celebrate the world she created without supporting Rowling; that debate was put to the test in 2023 when Hogwarts Legacy was released, leading Black players to create TikToks reimagining Hogwarts as an HBCU. The trend was met with both admiration and controversy since even though Black players were transforming Rowling’s world into one that represented them, they were still indirectly monetarily supporting Rowling by playing the game.

Controversy also came to 2024 film The American Society of Magical Negroes. Black viewers felt disrespected on multiple levels, with one of those levels being that the name made them believe that finally a film would give voice to Black representation in the fantasy and sci-fi genres. Instead, the film painted Black wizards and witches as aides to white supremacy.

Williams said that he believes Blood at the Root comments on what Black fantasy fans have been missing for a long time.

“My book lands in the want of seeing us casting spells, yes, but also, it’s modern,” he said. “It’s sparking conversations already and it’s not even on bookshelves yet. We all grew up on Harry Potter. Yes, he was a white British kid who got accepted into Hogwarts, but for a long time Black rep in fantasy stories like that have been pushed to the side, and I think what my book offers is all of that what we have been missing. Magic. Blackness. And Relatability.”

Williams said that he hopes Blood at the Root brings viewers back in touch with their own roots.

“I really want readers to go out and get reconnected to their history,” he said. “Black history is so vast and the way the government is trying to ban Black history, we need the future scholars, we need the historians and the griots to keep our stories going. I hope BATR will have that impact. I hope it sparks a conversation around the representation of Black folks and fantasy.”

Learn more about Blood at the Root at Penguin Random House. Williams will be in conversation with Clarence Haynes about Blood at the Root at the 92NY Center for Culture & Arts May 13. Tickets are available now.