“I am the strong friend, this is my cry for help,” declares Candice Carty-Williams, author of best-selling novel Queenie, in the opening moments of gal-dem’s new podcast Growing up with gal-dem.
The British novelist goes on to read an extract from her phone notes written in 2012 during a time in her life when she was grappling with anxiety and grief — when her best friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Hearing Carty-Williams articulate the emotions she was experiencing back then feels deeply personal, as if you’re chatting to a close friend.
The interview is the very first episode from a brand new podcast from gal-dem — a UK publication written by women and non-binary people of colour. Hosted by gal-dem founder Liv Little and head of editorial Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, the podcast invites each guest to read old diary entries, text messages, or letters from their younger selves. The guest lineup includes model and activist Munroe Bergdorf, Reni Eddo-Lodge (author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race), and Mariam Khan (editor of It’s Not About the Burqa).
Little chatted to me about the inspiration behind the podcast and the reason why the format of diary entries is so important. “The idea stemmed from the fact that Charlie [Brinkhurst-Cuff] had always kept diaries growing up,” Little told me. Rather than writing a letter to your past self, the concept of reading old journals is “about really responding directly to what we were thinking feeling and doing at that time,” she added. “I didn’t keep a formalised diary at the time, I was not quite as organized as Charlie.”
Liv Little, host of ‘Growing up with gal-dem’.
The inspiration behind the podcast comes from gal-dem’s anthology of essays “I Will Not be Erased”: Our Stories about Growing Up as People of Colour — which featured first-person stories from gal-dem writers’ experiences of growing up. Little’s essay in the book is about her experience of falling in love with a girl for the first time, while co-host Brinkhurst-Cuff wrote about dance and body types. Little explained that they wanted to bring those conversations and stories to life through a podcast.
SEE ALSO: Listen to gal-dem on Mashable’s History Becomes Her podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Acast.
Hearing guests reading aloud their immaculately kept teenage diaries, old text messages, and notes has been “a beautiful experience” for Little and Brinkhurst-Cuff. “You can reflect and you can look back and say, ‘Oh, look, I was thinking and feeling this thing, but it’s OK,'” she said. “I wish I had a bit more reassurance that it was not abnormal to feel this way or to be going through things. But I think there’s also a lot of knowledge and and intelligence as well that comes with being young.” Rather than looking back on your younger self and thinking, “Oh, you were young and silly,” Little believes there are lessons we can learn today from our past selves.
“I wish I had a bit more reassurance that it was not abnormal to feel this way”
With a book and podcast both reflecting on the formative experience of growing up, I asked Little why gal-dem is so drawn to this theme in its work. “There is just so much that you go through when you’re growing up as a young person,” she said. “There are so many thoughts, feelings, emotions that you go through in terms of really knowing yourself, and maybe finding comfort in who you are, but also maybe not finding comfort in who you are.”
For Little, that period in her life was centred on her own sexuality. “I know that when I was kind of 16, I think I was really quite conflicted with with who I was and where my sexuality sat,” she added. “It was something that at that age, I knew and I felt strongly about, but I didn’t necessarily listen to because of a fear of judgment.”
As well as actively addressing the way people of colour are portrayed in the media, gal-dem has built a body of work that represents the lived experiences of young people of colour. “What is so important for us with the work that we do is that the next generation — as much as our generation and generations above us — have space for certain conversations that we wish we would have had growing up.”
Asked if Little thinks her experience of growing up would have been markedly different had gal-dem been around, she answers with a resounding “absolutely”. Back then, she says, most of the magazines that were marketed at teen girls were “direct emulations of the glossy women’s mags that older people would have been reading.”
“We know that in terms of representation, they are not places where we see ourselves or our stories reflected for the most part,” she said. “Yes, things are improving, but there’s still a kind of a long way to go.”
In addition to seeing yourself represented on a page, or in an audio recording, it’s vital that the project is not condescending towards young people. “It’s not with this filter of ‘we must speak to them as though they’re these little kids and they don’t have a clue’ because honestly I feel like the next generation is fierce,” she says. “When I look at my 14-year-old sister, she is so on it. She’s so aware of the world around her, and issues, and things that are happening, and maybe more aware of of herself than I was 14 as well.”
Does Little have any advice for young people growing up today? “Oh gosh,” she replied. “It’s such a strange set of circumstances. I mean, there’s a global pandemic happening. “If I’m looking back at what a younger or a little Liv would have wanted or needed or benefited, there’s a theme that comes up in Naeem Davis’ episode where they say ‘go where it’s warm and find your community.'”
“I think that’s such a beautiful piece of advice. Find the people and gather around the people that make you feel good. And I know that that sounds so kind of simple, but it’s so important.”
You can listen to ‘Growing up with gal-dem’ on Spotify, Acast, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. New episodes come out every Thursday.