Angela Ledgerwood is Books Editor-At-Large at Cosmopolitan and Host of the literary podcast Lit Up Show. Her career started down the path of acting before she realized her passion for books and writing exceeded a desire to be on stage. Angela began interviewing artists for Interview Magazine and then became editor at Cosmopolitan, where she wrote and edited articles devoted to news and books. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and in 2015 launched Lit Up Show; a podcast that explores the world of books, writers and all things literary. With no topic off the table and no conversation too weird, personal or controversial, her interviews are highly captivating.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Who would you most like to be stuck on a desert island with?
This is a hard one. I’d love to be stuck with my boyfriend but that might sound a bit obvious.
What single book has had the greatest impact on you? Why?
There have been a few, but one of my favorites from last year was Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter. It reminded me how important family is.
Another favorite is a book called Interviews with Artists 1966-2012 by the art critic Michael Peppiatt. In it he interviewed various artists over three decades including Picasso, of whom he has interviewed three times over the course of his life. It also provides great inspiration for my interview questions.
When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
I go to bed at 11pm or sometimes earlier. My dream is to go to bed at 10pm and read but that doesn’t happen all the time. I'm not a really early riser but I'd like to be. I’m generally up by 7:30am.
Is there a time of day when you spend the most time reading?
It seems luxurious to say it but I read throughout the day. When I'm writing a piece or even researching before an interview, I'll get up at 6:30am and make coffee. It’s the sweet spot of time where I’m alert and can take things in.
Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
It's so weird how it happened. After university I had the dilemma of being offered two jobs. One was with these amazing women at an advertising agency that did really exciting stuff. The other one was at TMP, a recruitment company. Why I chose the big recruitment company, I have no idea! I had no interest in recruitment and stayed only six months.
Then I decided to explore acting so I started a course in Sydney and absolutely loved it. I got involved with doing plays in pubs and that kind of thing. Whilst I was attending classes at the Australian Theatre for Young People a teacher encouraged me to take an acting course in New York, so I saved up and spent two months reciting Shakespeare and dissecting David Mamet plays.
After returning to Sydney, I won the Greencard lottery which allowed me to go back to the States. Soon after I arrived I auditioned for an Australian play, The Boys, and got a part in it. We performed off Broadway for a month and through the process I realized that I loved the rehearsal process and analyzing each character’s motivations more than the acting. Soon after I moved to Los Angeles to intern on a film called The Jane Austen Book Club, within the wardrobe department. It was one of the weirdest experiences I’ve encountered – I sourced a lot of Spanx!
I eventually signed up to get an MFA in Fiction Writing and paid my way with a waitressing job at Gjelina. The course was a game changer. It gave me contacts in the American market and my professors became mentors that helped me get my first job. I got an offer at Interview Magazine to be an intern so moved back to New York.
Throughout my L.A. years I was lucky enough to have a mentor called Martha McCully who had been a neighbor in Venice. She had been the Executive Editor at InStyle and had worked in magazines for a long time. She was wonderful and generously connected me to people within the magazine world and through her I ended up meeting one of the heads of Hearst Publishing. After gaining experience from interning at Interview Magazine and eventually writing for them, I got a job at Cosmopolitan as Assistant Editor in Features and met another woman I would greatly admire, Joanna Coles.
That was my big break. Working at a magazine with so much brand recognition certainly opened doors. I had to learn fast to keep up, but I managed. I was given the opportunity to be a guest on Cosmo radio once a week. It was an opportunity to find my own voice and be me, I didn’t have to be the voice of the magazine. Without a doubt it was the best part of my week. I loved how candid and raw the conversations were, and simultaneously I was interviewing women for pieces for the magazine and asking them about their life stories. I came to realize that there was a space to have these kinds of conversations live on their own in audio form.
That's when I got the idea for the literary podcast; interviews with authors that would uncover their inspirations and motivations through deep conversation. I knew if I could get it off the ground I would love it. First, I just started talking about it to everyone I knew. Then a friend put me in touch with a woman called Britton Schey who produced podcasts at Embassy Row, and she now produces the show. She happened to have worked in the literary department of WME and had a major love of books. After meeting for the first time and discussing the idea she was completely onboard.
Lit Up officially launched in early 2015. I love the one on one connection with the person I’m interviewing. It’s almost like acting in that you have to truly listen and respond in the moment to drive the content forward in an authentic way. So perhaps my career has come full circle after all.
What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your career?
Definitely confidence. I’ve had to learn that confidence matters—however I present myself to the guests when they first walk in the room makes a difference to how they feel and how they express themselves. Being self-depreciating is a very Aussie thing, but it does not make a guest feel like they're in a room with someone who's in control. I have had to change the way I receive them in order to make them feel comfortable. I remember our producer, Britt saying to me, “You’re the host, this is your show. You’ve done all the work. Make them feel like they’re in good hands. They’re about to tell you all about their life. If you don’t project that you’re totally in control, they won’t trust you and you’ll lose them.” Thank goodness Britt challenged me to improve. Psychologically it was a big hurdle for me, but it’s been one of my biggest breakthroughs.
What motivates you?
The opportunity to speak with people I admire. I get the great joy to being able to pick who I want to have a really interesting conversation with. It keeps me immensely engaged with my work.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
I wish I’d understood what my strengths were so I could have boosted my weaker areas earlier on. I wish I’d been able to pinpoint what I loved about the acting process because I would have understood far sooner that I loved talking about the writing versus actually performing. It could have saved years of time spent trying to learn how to do an American accent, which I never mastered!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Definitely the podcast. I've never had something that's such an expression of who I am and what I want to put out in the world. To have achieved that is very fulfilling. I feel very proud of it.
What do you believe has been the key to your success?
Following through with what I set out to do. When I had this idea for the podcast, I decided that I didn't care if it failed or not, that I would just see it through. I remember going to yoga classes and when they asked us to come up with our intentions, mine was to follow through on the podcast idea. I would say it all day long even when I was walking down the street, “Follow through on this one idea.”
What is your life motto?
Be kind and treat people with dignity and respect.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Recently I got great career advice. It was to decide on a day/hour rate benchmark for commercial or branded work. Deciding to refuse jobs that are underpaid has given me much more confidence, self-respect, and has actually lead to more work opportunities.
Who do you most admire in business? Why?
Joanne Coles, my former boss and Editor-in-Chief at Cosmopolitan. She is now the Editorial Director of Hearst. She taught me to strive for the best in everything I do and to ask for what you want. In my case, the very best writers in the world, because why not? Be okay if you get knocked back and move on. A superior quality of work sets a standard that propels itself forward.
What do you believe is the secret to success?
It comes back to always following through on what you set out to do.
Are there work ethics, attitudes or behaviors that you most admire in women?
Definitely. I greatly admire how women connect one another. All of my opportunities and the big leaps in my career, I attribute to a relationship or a connection of some kind. Not all through women but definitely a large portion is down to a recommendation or a friend or colleague putting themselves out to make an introduction.
Who do you turn to when the going gets tough?
Girlfriends, parents and partners.
I'd love to bring the podcast to a bigger audience and get creative about how to share audio and video content.
As told to Caroline Hugall on Friday 23rd September at The Elk in New York
Angela's website can be found here: http://ledgerwood.co/