Luvvie Ajayi Wrote A Best-Selling Book Turned Shonda Rhimes Comedy — Now She's Going On Tour

Photo: Matthew Eisman/Getty Images.
Writing a book is no small feat. Making sure that book is on-point and still funny requires real talent. Writing a book that is on-point, funny, and makes the New York Times Best Seller list is even more of a feat. Having that best seller be picked up by one of the most powerful women in the entertainment industry seems like some kind of miracle. But Luvvie Ajayi did it with her book of social commentary, I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual. Earlier this year it was announced that Shonda Rhimes, the powerhouse behind some of our generation’s best television — Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, etc. — acquired the rights to Ajayi’s book in order to develop her first comedy series. I believe the accurate term to describe her after this series of events is "winning."
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But we don’t have to white-knuckle until the series premiere if we want to get a healthy dose of Ajayi herself. She is a mainstay on Black Twitter, often live tweeting what's happening in politics and our favorite shows. And her blog, Awesomely Luvvie, is rife with her classic wit and candor. This fall, she is headlining a 10-city tour with Together Live, an annual event that brings thought leaders, activists, celebs, and artists together for a night of inspiration and storytelling. This years event features, in addition to Ajayi, special guests like Sophia Bush and Connie Britton. Check out their website for a full list of speakers, cities, and to buy tickets.
I got the chance to chat with Ajayi about her upcoming gig, her book, and the moment that she was anointed by Rhimes herself.
How did you find out that Rhimes was interested in your book for a television series?
"I had actually gone to Shonda's office to meet, talk, and get advice about TV because my book was getting a lot of TV interest. It was there that she was like, 'We're interested in optioning your book.' And it was a surprise!"
So you already had an idea that this could be a direction that I'm Judging You was heading in?
"No. Well, not necessarily. When I wrote the book, I definitely wasn't thinking about [TV] because it's a nonfiction book of essays. Typically, books that are optioned are novels. So, when I was writing the book, I was not thinking it was something I was creating that could possibly be a television show. Even after I wrote it I wasn't thinking about it until people started coming to me interested in optioning my book."
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Is this going to be one of the shows that Shonda develops under her new deal with Netflix?
"Not sure. I can't even speak on that. My show is just in development in general. I don't have details yet."
Are you going to be writing for the show as well?
"I will be writing for the show, and I will be a producer. I will not be acting in it."
So, no Issa Rae crossovers for you.
"No! [laughs] I actually don't want to be an actress. It's not on my radar."
What kind of vision did you have for yourself in terms of your writing, your humor, and your overall brand?
"I just wanted to really do some good work. It was my book. I wanted to hit the New York Times Best Seller List and write something that I was proud of. That was really the vision. There wasn't anything larger in my head. I just wanted the book to be considered really good and written well. I wanted it to be timely and timeless. And I wanted my audience, the people who'd been reading my book for a long time, to think it was me at my best. That is what I kinda set out to do. Anything else that happened was extra for me."
Do you talk about this on Together Live?
"On the tour I really talk about my journey and how I was able to carve this path for myself that had no manual, no road map, and how the times when I wanted to quit were really the times when I had to keep going the most. Setting goals is important, but also just doing work that you're proud of has to be at the pole of it. If this book had done really well, and I thought it was a terrible book that I wrote, I wouldn't be proud of it."
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Right. So, tell me more about how you got involved with the tour.
"I had been a fan of Glennon's [Doyle] writing for a while, and then last year we both spoke at Pennsylvania Conference for Women. It was actually our first time meeting, but we had been reading each other's work. So, we fangirled over each other for like five minutes while we were both signing our books. People in line would wave and be like 'Ah, I love you!' and I'm like 'Ah, I love you, too!' We started talking about Together Tour and I'd heard of the tour being about intersectionality, bringing storytelling to a room, and allowing women who typically don't have a chance to be in these types of rooms – to have access to it. I like that idea. You know most people can't afford to go see women like Ibtihaj Muhammad or Abby Wambach speak on any given day. This, basically, is the opportunity. It's like the meeting of a wolf pack of women. Our best is going to be awesome."
Note: Doyle will be headlining alongside Ajayi at all 10 stops of this year’s event.
Do you have a tour prep regimen like Beyoncé?
"I do not. I should probably get one. I've been focusing on figuring out how to be better at self-care. I probably need to come up with a routine that includes – you know what? I'll probably just get massages every other city. Maybe that can be my self-care regimen."
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Yes!
So let’s do a rapid fire pop culture round because you, obviously, are known for having the best takes on it. Team Issa or Team Lawrence?
"Team Issa."
Team Tasha or Team Issa?
"Hm... That's harder. Aw, man. That's tough. I will say Team Issa just because I do skew towards her, yeah."
How do you kill an ice dragon?
"With fire! With like fire from his brother. I think one of his brothers is going to have to kill him."
So you think it has to be dragon fire?
"Yep!"
That's the theory we're running with, then.
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