Culture & Lifestyle
Published March 22, 2022

Ibi Zoboi on Okoye's First Mission Outside of Wakanda

The New York Times best-selling author details 'Okoye to the People,' on shelves now!

In Okoye to the PeopleNew York Times best-selling author and National Book Award Finalist Ibi Zoboi helps the young Dora Okoye navigate her first adventure that defies her established way of life as the respected warrior of the Wakandan court in a high-stakes fish-out-of-water story. The YA prose novel is now available, everywhere books are sold

Before she became a multifaceted warrior and the confident leader of the Dora Milaje, Okoye was adjusting to her new life and attempting to find her place in Wakanda’s royal guard. Initially excited to receive an assignment for her very first mission and trip outside Wakanda, Okoye discovers that her status as a Dora Milaje means nothing to New Yorkers. Caught between fulfilling her duty to her country and listening to her own heart urging her to stand up for a Brooklyn neighborhood, Okoye must determine the type of Dora Milaje―and woman―she wants to be. had the opportunity to talk to author Ibi Zoboi about Okoye to the People, finding balance between loyalty and purpose, becoming your own Super Hero, and more!

Okoye to the People

Read an excerpt of Okoye to the People thanks to our friends over at Disney Publishing/Marvel Press here! What was your writing process for tackling a story set in the Marvel Universe?

Ibi Zoboi: Writing a story set in the Marvel Universe was very challenging. The Dora Milaje, and Okoye specifically, are not featured prominently in a lot of the comics. So I had very little information to build Okoye’s story. We know who she is in terms of her devotion to Wakanda and the throne and her training as a Dora Milaje, but we don’t know much about her inner struggles. I had to humanize Okoye by giving her feelings of doubt, fear, and compassion. Even with some of the fighting and action scenes, I made sure that this was a character-driven story. How do you balance a Super Hero story, while still tackling real world experiences such as gentrification, corruption, and drug use?

Ibi Zoboi: All real-world issues could use a Super Hero. We often associate Super Hero stories with fighting bad guys and saving the world. While there is a villain in Okoye to the People, the real antagonists are the issues that arise from what bad guys do. Many fans of Wakanda wish that it were real, and if the Dora Milaje were actual warriors in the world, I would want them to fight battles big and small. What interested you in taking the story out of Wakanda?

Ibi Zoboi: Since Okoye is a new Dora Milaje, I wanted her to gain wisdom and sharpen her critical thinking skills by stepping outside of Wakanda. I needed her to understand Wakanda and the throne within a global context. She needed to understand how powerless people who look like her really are, and for her to examine the way she can or can’t help as a Dora Milaje. I also wanted to juxtapose a fictional utopia like Wakanda with a very real place that can feel dystopian. In coming to New York City, Okoye comes face-to-face with forces that seek to oppress those who look like her brothers and sisters. How do you broach these very real issues while still inspiring hope for your young readers?

Ibi Zoboi: Okoye is the hope in the story. She is a warrior and she cares deeply about teens she meets. Without giving too much away, Okoye is limited in what she can do. But she empowers the kids and the leaders in Brownsville to learn to fight their oppressors on their own. The people of Brownsville, Brooklyn, also represent hope in the story. What can you tell us about No National Left Behind (NNLB) and its leader Stella Adams?

Ibi Zoboi: The idea of No Nation Left Behind comes from when I last visited Haiti. I was born in Haiti and I’ve seen how the country has changed over the years since the big earthquake in 2010. There are thousands of non-government organizations (NGOs) in Haiti. Yet, many of Haiti’s problems have gotten worse, even though there are lots of people who claim to be there to help. Many of these NGOs operate in other developing countries. They make a lot of money from donors, but the people of Haiti don’t often see that money.

I also grew up in New York City when it was really broken and dilapidated. Organizations come into certain neighborhoods, clean up in the guise of “urban renewal,” and in a few years, the rent and home prices increase, and there are different kinds of people who live there. Stella Adams represents every greedy corporation who values profit over people. There are many Stella Adams in the world and I wanted her to go head-to-head with not only a Dora Milaje, but the kids she is harming. Throughout the story, Okoye defies the orders of her Captain Aneka and King T’Chaka—a core trait of a Dora Milaje. How does Okoye grapple with being loyal to Wakanda and the throne, and with what she knows to be what’s right?

Ibi Zoboi: This is the crux of the story. She doesn’t know how to balance her loyalty to her nation and its throne and wanting to help a group of teens who remind her of herself. She realizes that if she had been a teen in Brownsville, she would’ve wanted help and a way to save her community. But helping others means abandoning her king and putting Wakanda in danger. Okoye has a lot to learn in the process, and in the end, she does what is right for both her and her nation. What advice do you have for our young readers who want to bring about change in their own communities? 

Ibi Zoboi: Seek out help, organize your friends and community members. You can’t do it alone. One hundred tiny fish can be more powerful than one big fish. 

Okoye to the People now on shelves, everywhere books are sold!

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