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ASU professor Dr. Jewell Parker Rhodes shares culture, wisdom as NYT best-selling author

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Posted at 4:00 AM, Mar 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-26 08:49:50-04

ABC15 continues to honor Women's History Month, now highlighting New York Times best-selling author Dr. Jewell Parker Rhodes.

Rhodes is an Arizona State University professor who many consider to be the "grandmother of fantasy."

Rhodes has been writing for more than three decades, and is more relevant now than ever, with several exciting projects on the horizon.

"The world is expanding," Rhodes said, speaking on the possibilities for her work in the future.

Her novel "Ghost Boys" is currently being made into a feature film by Studio Entertainment.

Another one her books, "Black Brother, Black Brother," is in talks with filmmakers as well.

"Steph Curry of the Warriors, his media team, Unanimous Media, is turning that into a film," Rhodes said.

"Black Brother, Black Brother" is a coming-of-age story featuring a Black character breaking through in the sport of fencing.

Rhodes will soon have 18 published books to her name in a variety of genres but she never forgets her roots are tied to fantasy.

"When I first started teaching, I started teaching science fiction and fantasy. That was one of my core courses," Rhodes said.

Rhodes earned the distinction, "grandmother of fantasy," mainly because of her book, "Voodoo Dreams."

"Voodoo Dreams" was her very first novel, set deep in the bayous of 19th century New Orleans, and unravels the mystery of one Marie Laveau.

"This Black woman, who was a real woman named Marie Laveau, who supposedly walked on water," Rhodes said with a thoughtful smile in her eyes.

The plot is set in a time when black Africans were crammed in boats as slaves and sent to the Americas. Rhodes highlights the often forgotten fact that slaves brought with them long-held customs and beliefs beyond their chains of bondage.

"And part of what I'm drawing upon is West African faith in which there's this idea that the whole world is alive with spirits, and the spirits guide us," Rhodes said.

But even before writing "Voodoo Dreams," Rhodes was looking to change the way people of color are seen in literature.

"When I was a little girl, I did not see me in books," Rhodes said.

Representation became her mission.

"I'm always trying to focus on African American heritage and African American spiritual traditions," she said.

When it came to getting "Voodoo Dreams" published, Rhodes said she was struck with a harsh dose of racial reality.

"In fact, I have a letter from an editor way back who said 'Black people don't read books,' so therefore I can't buy this book."

Crediting in jest the mystic powers of Marie Laveau herself, Rhodes said an editor at St. Martins Press took a chance, offering her a mere $2,000 to publish her work, and the gamble paid off... big time.

"Voodoo Dreams continues to be my all-time best-selling novel, it just keeps going and going and going," Rhodes said.

These days Rhodes continues to write and stays busy on staff at ASU, like the ancestors before her, sharing her wisdom, knowledge, and the light to learn so others may follow.

"The magic, the wonder, the awe, that exists in our world and in our cultural and spiritual traditions," Rhodes said, speaking of what she hopes to impart to her students.

You can find Jewell Parker Rhodes books on Amazon and other major retailers.