Little Rock resident Ayana (eye-YAWN-uh) Gray is having a good year. Like, a “seven-figure book deal” kinda year. Gray’s Pan-African-inspired fantasy novel “Beasts of Prey” is getting great notice, landing the University of Arkansas alum on “Good Morning America” and landing her book in the hands of film execs at Netflix.
Catch our interview with Gray on newsstands in the October issue of the Arkansas Times, where we preview the upcoming Six Bridges Book Festival.
Gray will give a lecture at the UA-Fayetteville Honors College at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 27, the school where she graduated in 2015 with degrees in both political science and African and African American Studies. More from the University:
Beasts of Prey was acquired by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin, in a seven-figure deal. It was published in the U.S. on Sept. 28 this year.
It will also be published internationally across five continents and 16 countries and is being developed by Netflix as a feature film, with Melody Cooper adapting the screenplay.
“When I started writing Beasts of Prey, I never could’ve imagined that Netflix would be interested in adapting it into a feature film,” Gray said. “To get to partner with them, Melody and the team at Clubhouse Pictures to bring my book to life is a dream come true.”
Beasts of Prey is a School Library Journal Gold Standard Selection and received three starred reviews ahead of publication from Kirkus Reviews, Booklist and School Library Journal, designating it as a title of particular note and accomplishment.
A RECIPE FOR LITERARY SUCCESS
Gray attended high school in Little Rock and currently resides there. She said that the experiences she had as a student at the U of A “absolutely bled into Beasts of Prey.”
She cited one class in particular, professor Jeff Ryan’s course on political violence, during which she learned about concepts like moral relativism.
“I found it really fascinating,” Gray remembered. “By the end of the class, we were pretty uncomfortable. We realized that the world is not nearly as black and white as maybe we’re taught to believe as children.”
Months later, she had the opportunity to visit Ghana, where she studied pan-Africanism, the trans-Atlantic slave trade and decolonization. Gray, still reeling from the political violence course, was struck by how a country so young could have such a rich history.
“When I graduated just a few months later, it was the first time in my life that I didn’t have a very clear plan ahead,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was doing with myself. … But what I did know was that I love to write and that I love books.”
She began writing stories about the things she’d learned. The project that would eventually become Beasts of Prey began as something she did for fun, but it evolved into a more intentional book as she delved further into her research. “I had that base knowledge about things like pan-Africanism and the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but I didn’t know a lot about mythos across the African continent,” Gray explained. “And it’s a hard thing, because so much of it is oral. I’m still finding new things,” she added.