Yomi Adegoke on her novel 'The List'
AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:
In Yomi Adegoke's new novel, "The List," Ola has a very tough decision to make. It's only a month before she's meant to marry the love of her life, Michael, but then he shows up on an online list of men in media accused of sexual misconduct. Does she believe him when he says it's not true? Does she dump him? Does she go through with the wedding? And if she does, what does that say about her? Well, you're asking all the right questions, and we can't tell you what happens. But we can, however, talk to the author, Yomi Adegoke, who joins us today from New York. Welcome to the show.
YOMI ADEGOKE: Hi, Ayesha. Thanks for having me.
RASCOE: So first, introduce us to the main characters of the book, Ola and Michael. They are this real power couple.
ADEGOKE: Yeah. So Ola and Michael are a Instagram-famous couple who kind of seem to have it all on the surface. They're young. They're beautiful. They are - what I thought was quite specifically important to sort of elevate is the fact that they're a Black, dark-skinned couple, which, especially in the U.K., you don't necessarily see much of in terms of the media. And as you mentioned, an anonymous list goes up on social media accusing multiple different men of varying degrees of abuse, and Michael is named. And the list is very much a catalyst that exposes other underlying issues that this so-called couple goals relationship sort of had prior to the allegations being made.
RASCOE: And this list - it's like a whole character of its own. How did you come up with the idea? I mean, there were some lists of men in media, kind of bad men in media, published in 2017. Like, how much of that inspired the book?
ADEGOKE: It's so interesting you said that you feel like the list is its own character. Really - it really is. And I'd say that the internet is very much its own character in the book. So yeah, as you mentioned, there were a spate of lists that had gone viral in 2017. And as a journalist and as a feminist, as Ola is, I think my knee-jerk response was kind of like it was a positive thing. It was important to hold men accountable - not just men, but, you know, primarily men accountable in ways that we hadn't seen before. It was finally giving victims and survivors a voice. That being said, being a journalist and someone who, you know, grew up on the internet sort of very aware of stranger danger and the idea that you never know who you are speaking to online, I then, I think, started to have questions just about, you know, the ethics of that format and how easily anonymity can be weaponized online. So yeah, I wanted to write something on it, and yeah, the rest is very much history.
RASCOE: There is this moment in the book when Ola finally meets the person who published the list. And she's told, whatever you do, choose you. And that line really stuck with me because I felt like that really is the lesson.
ADEGOKE: Absolutely. And I feel like the story of the women is so frequently erased. And I felt someone like Ola - Ola is not just connected to a guy that's been accused of something heinous. She also is a feminist, so, you know, the stakes are incredibly high for her. She is risking, you know, looking like a hypocrite. She's risking having her own feminist credentials questioned, and the pressure on her is huge. And I did want to, whatever the outcome was, show Ola choosing herself and being able to define herself outside of the man she is with because she's not only defined by her relationship with him. She's also defined later on by his purported crimes.
RASCOE: You talk about them as a Black British couple, as...
RASCOE: ...A dark-skinned, Black British couple.
RASCOE: Talk to me about the nuances that that also brought to even the accusations, right? This is an accusation against a Black man...
RASCOE: ...Of intimate violence or harassment.
RASCOE: What is the role of that, and how does that make this story a bit different than it would have been if this was a white couple?
ADEGOKE: In terms of visible, dark-skinned, Black couples in the media, we do not have that many. The kind of representations that we get in terms of Black love - and I think I can say with confidence it's similar in the States - that when you do see Black couples, the likelihood of the woman being also dark-skinned tends to be quite rare. So when people do see that, people really tend to root for that couple.
Also, on top of that, you have Michael's identity in particular as a Black man, which means that there is, you know, a sort of perceived or, I suppose, assumed deviance or guilt when it comes to allegations such as these, which I think often gets lost in the conversation. Of course, historically, there have been allegations made against Black men that have been fueled by racism but also believed because of racism. And that, I think, complicates the story and the narrative. It's very complicated because two things can be true at once. It can be true that...
ADEGOKE: ...On the one hand, Black men do, you know, have a perceived and assumed guilt. And simultaneously, there are men that have been guilty of what they've been accused of. So, yeah, it's - I think it brings a very different dimension to the conversation compared to whether the protagonists were a different race.
RASCOE: And "The List" is going to be adapted for TV. Congratulations. What are you most excited about, you know, putting it on the screen?
ADEGOKE: I think I'm excited to see the different conversations it will foster. I actually think people deal slightly better, maybe, with problematic, complicated characters on screen. It's slightly easier to empathize with them and get in their heads.
RASCOE: Yomi Adegoke's debut novel, "The List" - thank you so much for joining us.
ADEGOKE: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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