Have you ever read Vogue, The Guardian or the i newspaper, or at the very least entered a bookshop over the past five years? Then you’ll have surely spotted the multi-talented Yomi Adegoke’s work. After taking it upon herself to create a magazine for Black teenage girls in 2012 and a stint in Channel 4’s newsroom, in 2018 the journalist and author co-penned the momentous non-fiction book Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible with friend Elizabeth Uviebinené. It made commissioning editors sit up, take note and alter the course of publishing forever. Since then, the pair have also published Loud Black Girls, a collection of essays by 20 female writers, and The Offline Diaries, a story about friendship for young girls. Now Adegoke’s going solo with her first novel, The List, which is due out in July and was picked up for a historic TV collaboration by A24, HBO Max and the BBC before it was even finished. She’s certainly showing no sign of slowing down. Her advice for aspiring writers? ‘I really encourage people to write about what matters to them,’ she tells me at Allbright members’ club. ‘It sounds so basic, but write authentically. See your point of difference as valuable and understand that unique perspective, in and of itself, is a currency and is valuable. It sounds so clichéd, but be yourself.’
To say that Lewisham-raised writer and actor Ryan Calais Cameron’s career has gone from strength to strength is an understatement. Since his first job in The Westbridge directed by Clint Dyer at the Royal Court, he has acted in the likes of Luther and Jekyll & Hyde before fresh perspective made him finish an old project, which would become his breakthrough work: For Black Boys Who Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy (first titled Timbuktu). An instant hit, the sell-out show just finished its third run, at the Apollo. On top of being tapped to write for Candice Carty-Williams’ TV adaptation of Queenie, he is currently working on a project set in 1970s Brixton with Top Boy’s Ashley Williams and overseeing a play he wrote about actor Sidney Poitier, Retrograde (at the Kiln until 27 May). But it seems For Black Boys is still his proudest moment for it has evidently reached so many Black boys and men. ‘I think it’s impacted people in a way that an artist would always hope for. People are coming and telling me, “This has changed my life,”’ he says to me at The London Library. ‘We had 100 tickets for young people every night. I’d sit near them and hear them go, “Oh my gosh, this ain’t theatre, theatre’s meant to be boring.” I’m like, yes, I know what you’re talking about. That was literally me when I was your age.’
Twenty-three-year-old England is only getting started. A poet, writer and actor, they’ve decided to skip the well-worn path to drama school, which seems to be working out just fine considering they’ve already won two awards at the Roundhouse Poetry Slam as well as the 2021 Platform Presents Playwright’s Prize for their play, Nuclear Children. The latter, which England is set to perform at Ladbroke Hall, Roundhouse’s The Last Word and Edinburgh Festival this year, is a tale about ‘mental health, a submarine accident and a melon’. England’s other two radically different screenplays are proof of their vivid imagination. ‘One is called Terf War, about trans exclusionary radical feminists,’ they tell me at the Peckham Pelican, ‘and the other is I Die at the End, about a guy with a brain tumour. His tumour is a character, personified, and comes to haunt him.’ Identifying as non-binary and having many trans friends, Terf War is a subject close to their heart. ‘I knew I wanted to write something about it eventually. Going on my phone is just relentless, so I was like: “Okay, I’ve got all these feelings, how do I get them out?”’ The rest of their work isn’t so literal. ‘I think that honesty really resonates with people. It’s scary, but sometimes good things are very scary. Good things come from doing something a little bit apprehensive.’ Amen to that.
If you’re in need of motivation, take a look at Lecky’s CV. The actor, writer, producer and Bafta-winning singer-songwriter can and will turn her hand to anything. Following a stretch at a writing room for EastEnders spin-off E20 as a teenager, then drama school, the odd acting job and writing workshops at the Lyric and Soho theatres, her big break came from creating and performing the one-woman play Superhoe at the Royal Court in 2019. About an aspiring musician who finds herself forced into sex work, it was swiftly snapped up by BBC3, and Lecky not only went on to star in the TV series (renamed Mood), but wrote the script, much of the music and executive produced it, too. The show has since won multiple accolades, though sitting in her agent’s living room she tells me her rise to success has been anything but overnight. ‘It’s a really long slog. And it’s something I feel passionate about, in terms of working-class people and being able to be in this industry and sustain it.’ Thankfully, she made it, and she’s keeping up the momentum. ‘I’m doing lots more writing for TV, and I’m writing a feature film.’ Although she’s also taking a moment to decide what she wants. ‘When you get recognised or people like your work, you can get overwhelmed. You have to think, “What do I want to say?” That’s something I’d never considered before.
‘My writing journey was very accidental,’ confesses Okundaye, sitting in the top floor of 76 Dean Street. ‘I didn’t think it was my calling.’ Now a journalist writing for the likes of The Guardian, Vice and i-D, co-curator of Instagram archive Black and Gay, Back in the Day, and author of one of Faber’s most hotly anticipated 2024 releases, Revolutionary Acts: Black Gay Men in Britain, he’s come a long way since studying human, social and political science at Cambridge and his ‘mind-numbing’ job in the Civil Service. ‘To pass the time during lunch breaks I would pitch articles and write about television or culture.’ Influenced by the poetry of Essex Hemphill and sparked by a friendship with activist Marc Thompson, his upcoming project is a collection of real life stories of Black, gay men based in Brixton and south London. And like Okundaye himself, it’s anything but dull. ‘I started by asking, “Have you got any gossip?” Sometimes people ask me about the book and what it’s like and expect it to be dry history, but I’m like no, it’s quite joyful, but also fun and catty at times.’ So what’s next? ‘I’m not going to say I’ve started novels, but I have ideas that I revisit every now and again.’ Plus, he says, a Steve McQueen-style dramatisation of Revolutionary Acts sounds tempting. Watch this space.
Chomping at the bit to know what will happen in the next series of Industry? Ava Wong Davies knows all the secrets. Why? Because she just finished working on the scripts. Those are the least of her bragging rights, however, because in 2018 she won a Sunday Times award for theatre criticism, and until a year ago she was reviewing plays for The Independent and The Stage — then her debut one-woman play, Graceland, starring Sabrina Wu and exploring identity, class, toxic relationships and coercive control, premiered at the Royal Court this year. For Wong Davies, a career putting pen to paper was always on the cards. ‘When I was eight, I had this little notebook that I’d gotten for Christmas and I wrote this awful fantasy novel,’ she tells me from her home, where she’s propped up with a broken leg. ‘My goal was to fill up the notebook. I thought that would be the end, like that’s how you wrote something. I ended up finding the right medium when I got into theatre at school and then at university it really took off.’ And take off it did, with Graceland receiving multiple favourable reviews. When it comes to being on the flip side of arts criticism, Wong Davies is diplomatic. ‘The review isn’t for the artist. You can’t take it seriously because it’s never going to match up to the work that an artist puts into it.’
Photography by Elliott Morgan.