The Wick - Interview Author and broadcaster Yomi Adegoke The Wick - Interview Author and broadcaster Yomi Adegoke
Monday Muse

Interview Author and broadcaster Yomi Adegoke

Interview
Yomi Adegoke
27 May 2024
Interview
Yomi Adegoke
27 May 2024
The Hay Literary Festival is in full swing this week, and here at The Wick Culture we had a chat with one of our favourite authors – Yomi Adegoke, the multi-award winning co-author of the revolutionary Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, and best-selling novel, The List – which she is currently adapting for television with A24, HBO and BBC.

As a columnist for The Guardian and British Vogue, we always appreciate Adegoke’s incisive point of view on culture and have been inspired and uplifted by her words many a time – it’s no surprise she was named one of London’s most influential people by the Evening Standard, and appeared on the Forbes 30 under 30 in 2021.

Adegoke, 32, trained in law, and her first foray into the media was via a magazine she set up for young Black women while she was still a student – before later turning to journalism as a way to shape the world she wanted to see. We caught up with Adegoke about her successes, challenges, and the books that shaped her personally and professionally along the way.

THE WICK:   You started a magazine soon after graduating, and later have been involved with trailblazing publications such as gal-dem. How do you see the place of magazines for young women today?

Yomi Adegoke :   I created Birthday magazine whilst at university because of the dearth of publications that focused on the black female experience. It was funded by two youth charities and I would hand it out in South London hair shops. At the time, the media was gradually getting more diverse with the launch of publications like gal-dem and Black Ballad too. Magazines that had previously been alienating eventually followed suit and became more inclusive. That being said, I fear we might have regressed, with the closure of game-changing outlets like gal-dem alongside a spate of other women’s magazines. It’s a worrying time for the industry and the future is uncertain, but I will say there are some great publications doing some amazing things – Elle has been utterly transformed under Kenya Hunt for instance, which is hugely exciting.

TW:   You have a law degree – what made you want to work in the media?

YA:   I think a part of me had always wanted to work in the media but thought it was a bit of a pipe dream. Like many second generation immigrant children, I had quite a rigid definition of success growing up and the financial precarity of my childhood meant I sought career stability. Law seemed like a safe bet (my parents had told me I’d make a good lawyer, since I was so argumentative!) but once I enrolled, I realised it wasn’t my cup of tea. What I did enjoy however was the storytelling element of it, the crafting of a narrative. The skills I learnt during my degree were surprisingly transferable to journalism.

TW:   Slay in Your Lane is a guide to life for black British women. What was the main change you hoped this book would make?

YA:   When Elizabeth Uviebinene and I co-wrote Slay In Your Lane in 2018, it was a very different, far less diverse publishing landscape. One of the things we wanted to see off the back of its release was an industry that was more reflective of the world we live in, and I would say it definitely played a part in helping that change come about.

One other thing I’ve always wanted however, was for the book to become irrelevant. For the things we talk about to no longer be the typical experience for black women living in Britain. The hope was that in the future, black women would read it in horror and disbelief at how different things were at the time of writing. I wanted it to become a relic and historical document, but unfortunately we have a long way to go before the experiences laid out in it are no longer commonplace.

TW:   Your first novel, The List, came out last year, fast becoming a best-seller. What is your advice to anyone who wants to write a book?

YA:   Keep at it. ‘Done is better than perfect’ might be a cliche thing to say, but it doesn’t make it untrue! A lot of writers become paralysed by their perfectionism and it leaves them unable to move forward with a work, but there is a reason we have editors down the line who will help hone our writing at a later stage. The most important thing to do, is do.

“The most important thing to do, is do.”

TW:   If you could do one thing with your writing, what would it be?

YA:   Provoke thought. I think we live in a time where people prefer work to constantly reaffirm what they already think and feel; whilst there is value in that to an extent, a lack of interrogation of what we believe stymies growth. Personally, I like to challenge and be challenged.

TW:   Who are the writers who have shaped you?

YA:   All my life I have been inspired by writers whose work is authentic and probing. As a child, my favourite author was Jacqueline Wilson, whose books focused on working class experiences that were so often left out of children’s books. When I got older, the work of bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins and Margaret Atwood ushered in my feminist awakening. More recently, the work of Tayari Jones and Kiley Reid informed stylistic choices I made in my debut novel. I also find myself buoyed by the work of my contemporaries like Vicky Spratt, Nadine White, Jason Okundaye and Africa Brooke to name a few, who put their heads above the parapet and write about complex, thought provoking things with nuance and layers (a lost art online!).

TW:   What book would you pass on?

YA:   A book I hugely recommend is Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan – a wry, biting romcom that I read during lockdown and has stayed with me ever since.

TW:   As a Londoner, where is your favourite culturally curious spot?

YA:   I love Opera Holland Park, which is a bit of a hidden gem for opera fans. It’s a marquee for open-air opera performances in the park that only opens during the summer and when the weather is at its best, it’s a completely unmatched evening.

TW:   Who is your ultimate Monday muse?

TW:   June Sarpong – she has so many strings to her bow, is super supportive and always looks amazing whilst doing it all! She is proof you can very much be a nice person and make it to the top and her work ethic is a constant inspiration.


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