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August Digital Cover: Yomi Adegoke

Yomi Adegoke’s career is one that continues to inspire many young Black-British aspiring journalists, including myself. With an impressive career in journalism coupled with prior publications such as Slay in Your Lane , Slay in Your Lane: The Journal, Loud Black Girls, The Offline Diaries and more, Yomi has established herself to be one of Black Britain’s most promising and prominent storytellers. As the landscape of journalism continues to evolve, the stories that are told as well as the storytellers change with it, and throughout this interview Yomi shares how her authentic voice is central to the stories she has told and continues to tell. You’ve had a very exciting and expansive career that has seen you from journalist to now published author, can you tell us about the making of your early career? My parents wanted me to be an architect, but I wanted to be a lawyer because of my love for debating. Truthfully, I wanted to be like Ally McBeal as well as have financial stability and law would have guaranteed that. However, I was terrible at Law and so I started a blog where I wrote about Pop Culture because it was fun. I had no real writing aspirations until a social media friend suggested that I pursue journalism. That’s when I started taking myself seriously as a writer and ended up starting a print magazine called Birthday that I would distribute in hair shops in London. The self-experience that I acquired through my blog and magazine helped me secure my first internship, my first job at ITN and then I went on to work at Channel 4 where I met Elizabeth Uviebinené, co-author of Slay in Your Lane . The start of my journalism and writing career was difficult as it came with a lot of rejection. I recall applying for hundreds of jobs and not receiving one reply, yet surprisingly, it didn’t knock my self-esteem. So many young Black-British professionals are self-starters who must invest both their internal and external resources in order to create experience, and that’s how and where I started. Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible is a book that shook up the publishing industry. With the title broaching topics such as racism, feminism, activism, with black women and our careers at the centre. How did Elizabeth and you come up with the concept for the book and what was your experience publishing a book of that nature at that time? We received our book deal in 2015 around the time Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo Lodge and Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch was announced and books such as The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla were published. The idea of the book came about whilst I was working at Channel 4 and Elizabeth was working at a huge bank in Canary Wharf. Elizabeth approached me with the idea as we were both struggling to find our feet in our respective industries, and she wanted to create something like Girl Boss by Sophia Amoruso but for Black women. Initially she wanted me to write the book, but I suggested that we do it together. We were both young and inexperienced, so we opted to collate a strong list of interviewees featuring Black women we admired. We emailed, slid into DMs and accosted people in the toilets to secure each interview. Whilst we were young, we were so ambitious and wanted to create something to commemorate Black women and our efforts. Whilst Slay in Your Lane was just before the spate of diverse books that you see now, especially post George Floyd, our publishing experience wasn’t terrible, in fact it was very positive and enjoyable. This is the main reason why I continued to work with Fourth Estate because they were so receptive to our vision as well as our editorial input; for example, I was able to commission a friend to design the book cover as we didn’t want Slay in Your Lane to follow the afrocentric silhouette or afro comb fashion. Elizabeth and I went to lengths to do the necessary research to ensure that Slay in Your Lane wasn’t a Trojan Horse and we wanted people to trust it, so our market research consisted of speaking to our desired audience and readership, Black women. Working with Elizabeth was beneficial in the sense that we complimented each other well. My work as a journalist coupled with Elizabeth’s work (at the time) as a marketing manager allowed us to exercise expertise. Can you recount your career trajectory post Slay in Your Lane ? How did you leverage the success of the book to ensure that you achieve your goals? Post Slay in Your Lane was crazy. We went on to publish a follow-up journal, Slay in Your Lane: The Journal , an anthology called Loud Black Girl and a children’s book series called The Offline Diaries . I found the latter project particularly hard because honestly speaking, I don’t know many children and I believe them to be the harshest critics. Slay in Your Lane set everything up for Elizabeth and myself. As well as subsequent book publications, I gained a Guardian and Vogue column and reached a point in my career where I had true financial stability. Even until this day we receive messages from women saying that they quit their job or made a certain decision because of Slay in Your Lane . It’s been five years since publication, and it has been incredible. The book raised my profile a lot and just before lockdown I was asked by the Guardian to be their women’s columnist, writing about women’s issues and so forth. However, unfortunately, the column died alongside covid, and I was asked to write an entertainment column offering commentary on reality TV. I love columns and I’ve always wanted to write one, so it aligned with my ambition. So, you secure a book deal for your debut novel “The List,” followed by an insane marketing campaign and then by a TV adaptation in the making. Can you give us a full run through of the ideation, writing and publishing process? The idea for “The List” came about in 2017 when something similar to the plot of the book happened in real life. Since then, I made a note that I wanted to write about an anonymous offenders list going viral. When I started doing my research, I realised that there are so many lists across several industries, and the one to start it all was called the “Shitty Media Men” list. This list shook up the states as a lot of prominent men were named; some lost their jobs, others didn’t. Despite having the idea, I didn’t do much with it until 2020 during lockdown. I had run out of painting canvas’ and so I decided to start the book. I tried writing a play at first, but that didn’t work, and then I chose to fictionalise it. I wrote 80K words and sent it over to my agent who assured me it was fantastic, but who advised me to delete 50K words and rewrite everything. I was quite concerned about being taken seriously when writing the first iteration of The List and it showed. The initial draft was navel-gazing and literary. Truthfully, that has never been me. Non-fiction pieces that I’ve written in the past have always had an air of levity and satire. I remember interviewing Kiley Reid, author of Such a Fun Age , and asking her about the process of writing a book that explores serious topics whilst maintaining a sense of buoyancy. Such a Fun Age was nominated for the Booker Prize despite not being literary and pretentious. This fact coupled with Kiley’s advice and a week-long writing retreat is what led me to write the book that I would read. That’s how I ended up with what The List is presently. I hadn’t finished the book before my agent decided to send it out for submission. Admittedly, I didn’t expect much since the book was incomplete. I’m not a coy person, so had I anticipated a great reception, I would have said. I was shocked when The List ended up in an eleven-way auction for print and then a seventeen-way auction for TV. I decided to go with Fourth Estate for the reasons discussed prior, but I couldn’t pick what production company I wanted to work with as I wanted to work with all interested in The List . I recall making a note on my phone app: BBC, HBO, A24 and pitching a collaboration to my agent. She said it was unlikely, but it worked out in the end. Without offering up any spoilers, can you tell us about the characters that you created in The List as well as the lives you portrayed. We have Ola and Michael, a highflying couple only a month away from tying the knot. But then an anonymous list naming abusers drops, and Michael is on it. When it comes to Ola and Michael, I wanted to touch on the conversation surrounding shame and embarrassment from a cultural point of view. This is a British Nigerian and Ghanaian dark-skinned couple and having the TV adaptation stay true to the biological characteristics described in the book is important to me. By virtue of who Ola and Michael are in the book, the stakes are higher, and people are invested in their relationship because of the conversations surrounding black love that I mirrored from real life. A lot of the characters in The List are inspired by people and personalities that I’ve interacted with; I’m from Croydon and I wanted to capture the people who I grew up with. I wanted to write characters who reflected a reality that I’ve been exposed to, whether indirectly or directly. On one hand, Black men in most countries, certainly in the West, are historically and statistically accused of crimes that they haven’t committed and are more likely to be considered guilty before trial. The List cites cases like Scottboro Boys and Central Park Five and looks at that argument. On the other hand, you have cases like Emmitt Till being referenced in the same conversation as Tory Lanez and the two aren’t comparable. I was trying to consider as many different perspectives as possible and how such a situation could impact the communities I’m used to. When I write, I lean into the world that I know and I didn’t want to write a story where the antagonist was racism. I didn’t want to make racism central to the plot. In The List , the protagonist is Black, the villains are Black. My work isn’t for the white gaze and so whiteness isn’t a factor. Ola and Michael are Black and this is a story about Black people and some of our issues. Who are you aside from your career, writing and credentials? For the past year work has been my whole personality, but I must admit that my first love isn’t fiction writing, it’s painting. I love to create and collect art. My interest in writing stemmed from my passion for debating as I’m very opinionated. Aside from that I’m a good time girl, I love to party and to experience the breadth and depth of my life. Whilst I’ve noticed that authors are expected to behave and present themselves a certain way, I’m committed to being myself and that includes living as I’ve always existed and allowing brands to align with the truest version of me. I like to categorise as a public figure who is multifaceted. I love to host, present and participate in panels and, as mentioned before, I paint amongst other things, but I don’t mind being described as a writer as it’s my main thing. Sunday Times bestselling debut novel, The List, is out now.

Yomi Adegoke’s career is one that continues to inspire many young Black-British aspiring journalists, including myself. With an...

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