Agbabi was born in London to Nigerian parents, and grew up in North Wales with an adopted family. She studied English language and literature at Pembroke College, Oxford.
Agbabi began performing on the London club circuit in 1995. She has cited among her influences Janis Joplin, Carol Ann Duffy, Chaucer, and various aspects of contemporary music and culture. Her childhood love of cake is apparent in her poem "Eat Me".
Her latest book, Telling Tales, was published by Canongate in 2014. It revisits Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and mines the Middle-English masterwork to offer a 21st-century take on the characters, its poetry and its performance elements. The book met with praise from poets who include Simon Armitage, who described it as "the liveliest versions of Chaucer you're likely to read." Agbabi continues to tour Telling Tales as a performance-poetry production shown at literature festivals, arts spaces and libraries across the UK. She is also the author of the poetry collections Bloodshot Monochrome (2008), Transformatrix (2000) and R.A.W (1995), which received the Excelle Literary Award in 1997.
She has performed extensively and in collaboration with other writers. Her work has also been influenced by rap rhythms and wordplay. She was a member of Atomic Lip, which has been described as "poetry's first pop group". They worked together from 1995 to 1998 and their last tour, Quadrophonix (1998) merged live and video performance. In 1996 she worked on a performance piece called FO(U)R WOMEN, with Adeola Agbebiyi and Dorothea Smartt, first performed at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
As well as performing in Britain, Agbabi has undertaken British Council reading tours of Namibia, the Czech Republic, Zimbabwe, Germany and Switzerland. She took part in Modern Love, a spoken-word tour produced by Renaissance One, which explored love and modern relationships, touring the UK and Switzerland.
Her poetry has been featured on television and radio, including the Channel 4 series Litpop in 1998 and on the children's programme Blue Peter in 1999. In 2000, she was one of ten poets commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to write a poem for National Poetry Day. In 2004, she was named as one of the Next Generation poets. Her second book, Transformatrix is a commentary on contemporary Britain which draws inspiration from popular music forms.
Agbabi is a former Poet Laureate of Canterbury. She has taught and run workshops and also been poet-in-residence at various places, ranging from Oxford Brookes University to a London tattoo and piercing studio. She has an MA in Creative Writing, the Arts and Education from the University of Sussex, and in September 2002 she was appointed Associate Creative Writing Lecturer at the University of Wales, Cardiff.
In March 2015, The Poetry Society announced Agbabi as one of five poets shortlisted for the 2014 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, for her book Telling Tales.
In 2017 Agbabi was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.The Wife of Bafa (text); Analysis of The Wife of Bafa
Telling Tales, Canongate Books (2014).
Bloodshot Monochrome, Canongate (2008).
Transformatrix, Canongate (2000).
R.A.W., Canongate (1995).