The Manchester Literature Festival Blog
Review: Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible
Centre for New Writing student Christine Walker finds two black women changing the conversation.
The Central Library, on St Peter’s Square, Manchester was set to host, as part of the Manchester Literature Festival, a night with the young and well-received authors of Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene. The presenter was the award-winning Radio, Television, author, and activist, Gemma Cairney.
The room, a large space, which overlooks the square and metrolink, was buzzing with a contagious energy. The seats were filling up with women from every walk of life. Caucasian, Asian, African, and Caribbean women had come out to meet the two current sensations. Their book, a bright pink hardcover and gold strips, manner from heaven, published by 4th Estate, London, and sold in bookshops for £16.99, was galvanizing interest on such a diverse scale. A young woman sat next to me beamed with excitement when I asked if she had read the book, “Yes, I have. And I’m already taking notes for my own life,” she told me. There was a Caucasian man sitting to my left, he laughed nervously, perhaps aware that he was one of the only two Caucasian males sitting in the audience.
However, the event was scheduled for a 7:00 pm start but the audience, who had arrived ahead of time and took up their seats, found themselves involved in a mini-reunion. Seeing old friends and acquaintances, they engaged in a chorus of conversations which meant no one noticed that the main acts were running a bit late. At 7:15, the presenter, a fantastically dressed female walked onto the stage and took up her seat. The lighting above her chair set off a warm glow against the yellow autumnal coat Gemma wore which she matched with dark blue stockings and a pair of coral-green loafers. Minutes later the audience burst into applause as the two, according to Gemma, “superstars of the night” walked onto the stage, each gracefully holding a glass of white wine. They sat down in the grey armchairs next to Gemma’s and the crowd quickly quieted down, to hear their words of wisdom.
Gemma, looking equally pleased to be hosting the duo, asked what was writing the book like for Yomi and Elizabeth. “It was nerve-wracking given the content on racism in the workplace. There was a lot of sleepless nights with me asking myself do I really want this out there forever?” Elizabeth Uviebinene, a calm twenty-seven-year-old with a bright and warming smile, who is the older of the two childhood friends, explained. Elizabeth, a Nigerian immigrant, came to Britain at the age of four with her parents and grew up in Croydon, South London. Her career was in market management; where she worked as a manager for some years. “I didn’t want this book to be about sensationalisation or about net profit sales. I wanted it to be out there for a greater purpose. Therefore, I called up my journalist friend (Yomi) and asked her to write a book with me.” Unlike Elizabeth, Yomi Adegoke, age twenty-six, was born in Britain (also to Nigerian parents.) Yomi grew up in Croydon and graduated from university with a journalism degree. “In 2014 we lived in the same house where we constantly text message each other about the ideas for the book. This went on for two years. We couldn’t shut up about it because our heads were swirling with ideas. We knew we had something special; therefore, we didn’t want it to be written by someone else,” Yomi explained.
The greater purpose Elizabeth mentioned later became Slay In Your lane: The Black Girl Bible, written through the authentic voices of real black British women, which gave an unadulterated account of their own personal racial experiences: in the workplace, in educational institutions, and in romantic relationships. Gemma then asked how did the title come about. “I was reading a blog on Beyonce’s sister, Solange, on how she was carving a name for herself in the music industry. I remember captioning the blog ‘Slay In Your Lane’ and sending it to Yomi and she texting back to say ‘that will be the name of our book’.”
The duo went on to talk about the racism they face on a daily basis in Britain and how it was easier for a non-British person with white skin to passed as British as supposed to someone who was born in England but with a darker hue to their skin.
The conversation lingered for the most part of the night on race, gender and inequality in the music, film, and publishing industry. “We wanted to get this book out there because a book makes things more formal,” Yomi added, then continued. “We want this book to be for everyone, all colours, because I’ve spent all my life reading white literature, for example, Harry Potter and I’m not a white wizard.” There was some disquiet in the room after this, as the audience cheered, nodded their heads, and laughed at comments directed at white Britain. I could tell from where I was sitting that some members of the audience felt uncomfortable at the nature of the conversation although they very much wanted to give their support to the writers. There were some misunderstandings about Ed Sheeran being voted the most influential artist in black music today. The room erupted with disbelief and disdain.
Furthermore, the authors forego the conventional reading of an extract from the book in discussion. Instead, they took questions from the audience. The questions were few and the answers were lengthy. But nevertheless, the audience reveled in the fact that they were a part of something real, which gave them a voice, even if it was just for a moment. Yomi had asked their readers and audience earlier not to look to them for wise answers and political changes for black people living in Britian because, as writers, they still have a lot to learn. “Instead, look to the strong women in the book whom we have drawn our own aspirations from, such as the Labour MP Diane Abbot.” But I could sense that the audience had long given up on people in political authority; instead, it was ordinary voices such as Yomi’s and Elizabeth’s they were now looking to for guidance.