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The world's best writers put a literary podcast on the map

3 April 2018
Connecting readers with authors in a modern day book club
With her podcast, Lit Up, Angela Ledgerwood created a platform for authors to talk about their work and lives. Her knowledgeable and passionate approach has now seen her interview some of the world's leading authors.
Angela Ledgerwood reading in a book store

Angela Ledgerwood, creator of the Lit Up podcast.

The first job Angela Ledgerwood (BA ’04 BCom ’04) had in the United States was, fittingly, on the set of a film called The Jane Austen Book Club.

“I’d just moved to LA and literally knew one person,” she says over the phone from her home in New York City. “I had no idea how to get a job in the States and my friend got me a gig as a wardrobe intern.” The job was far from glamorous. “I wasn’t allowed to hand any of the actors anything,” Ledgerwood recalls. “So I spent most of my time driving around, going to various Targets to get Spanx for the actresses.”

While a career in film wasn’t on the cards for Ledgerwood (“I got bored very quickly!”), the fact that the movie was about a book club was apt. Ledgerwood is now the host of the popular literary podcast, Lit Up. Since 2015, she has interviewed a different writer every week: Salman Rushdie, Roxane Gay, Ann Patchett, Jay McInerney, and many more.

In a world awash with podcasts, it seems almost foolhardy to launch a new one. But while watching The First Tuesday Book Club, Ledgerwood suddenly saw a gap in the book market, and knew she could fill it.

“I was covering books at [United States] Cosmopolitan at the time,” she says, “and the remit there was basically, ‘Choose a few books coming out this month that the reader will like’. There wasn’t any critiquing or judgement.” Ledgerwood, who describes herself as the kind of bookish child who preferred to sit indoors and read while her mates played in the sun, jumped at the chance to create a platform for authors to speak about their books at length.

Headphones and a mixing desk

Though she lives in Brooklyn, Ledgerwood records her podcast at a studio near Manhattan's SoHo district.

“As well as the books pages at Cosmo, I was interviewing a lot of amazing women – [actor] Julia Louis‑Dreyfus, [Facebook Chief Operating Officer] Sheryl Sandberg, Senator Elizabeth Warren. I would speak to them for 40 minutes or so, knowing only a few paragraphs would make the magazine. I really wanted a way to have proper, long conversations with authors and notable people I loved and admired.” And so, Lit Up was born.

Two years on, Ledgerwood has interviewed authors from acclaimed essayist Sloane Crosley to controversial Norwegian memoirist Karl Ove Knausgaard. Her guests are many and varied – there are fiction and non‑fiction authors, Americans and international writers, men and women, debut authors and industry veterans.

The show is funny and illuminating, a testament to Ledgerwood’s ability to put her subjects at ease immediately. “I’m most interested in where people’s art or creativity intersects with their life and their experiences, maybe even more so than the writing process,” she says. “I want to get to the illuminating parts of the authors’ lives that have shaped the issues they’re interested in or drawn to.” Often, she says, this comes back to childhood and family.

Her own childhood was largely spent reading and watching old movies. "There was a joke in my family that I liked hanging out with Bill Collins (BA ’56 DipEd ’57 MEd ’65), who introduced the Sunday afternoon movies, more than other kids!”

I’ve learned that the interview is not about me; it’s about the other person, and that has been so freeing.
Angela Ledgerwood
Angela interviewing Trevor Noah on stage

Ledgerwood interviewing the host of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah. She has also interviewed Salman Rushdie and Arianna Huffington, among many others.

 

It may have seemed obvious that she would pursue a career in the arts, but when it came time to choose her university degree, she faltered. “I chose commerce because I thought I needed to be serious. I did arts, too, which I loved, but I had little interest in my commerce subjects.”

Ledgerwood, who resided at Women’s College for two years, recalls being hauled into the office by then‑principal and CEO, Quentin Bryce (DLaws (Honoris Causa) ’09), when it became obvious she was barely going to pass accounting. “She told me to get it together, basically,” says Ledgerwood, laughing. “I told her I hated accounting and she said that wasn’t really important. I’d chosen it – I had to give it my best. It was a great lesson.”

After uni, which included a year on exchange at Cornell University in the United States, Ledgerwood made her way back for that fateful job on The Jane Austen Book Club. From there, she drifted a little. Internships at small magazines, a job at an online recruitment portal, and a master’s degree in fine arts followed before Ledgerwood found her feet at Interview magazine, then Cosmopolitan, where she was working when she conceived Lit Up.

As she started the job at Cosmopolitan, she was close to broke. “My mum always said, ‘come home’ but I felt like I couldn’t until I’d done something I was really proud of. I just had to keep going.”

Angela Ledgerwood

Beyond her podcast, Ledgerwood also writes Esquire magazine’s monthly online books coverage.

With the podcast, she says, she has created something she’s incredibly proud of. Does she get nervous interviewing big‑name authors, particularly ones whose work she admires? “Sometimes,” she says. “I’ve admired Siri Hustvedt’s work for a long time and I was really nervous about interviewing her. But I’ve learned that the interview is not about me; it’s about the other person, and that has been so freeing. I approach interviews with the idea that it’s my job to make this person be the best version of themselves for an hour – to let their work and their personality come through.”

After two years interviewing literary luminaries, Ledgerwood still has plenty of potential authors on her wish list. “Zadie Smith would be amazing,” she says. “And JK Rowling. I have so many questions for her.”

There’s one interview she’d like to do over again – with fellow Aussie Richard Flanagan. That conversation made her cry. “We recorded right after he won the 2014 Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. I was a mess. That book hit a nerve with me; I loved it fiercely.”

Putting the incident down to a mix of homesickness and a deep love of the book, Ledgerwood felt so bad about crying during the recording that she never uploaded it. “We still have it,” she says. “We might run it one day. My producer told me the crying was the best bit!”


Written by Lauren Sams (BA(Hons) ’07)
Photography by Natan Dvir

 

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