How Two Best Friends Wrote The Black Girl Bible

Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Best friends and first-time authors Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené are baffled when people ask them whether writing a book together put a strain on their relationship. "We’ve gone through way more stressful stuff than that," laughs Yomi. "Being able to do something that’s, god willing, going to help lots of young black women is cool but getting to do it with your best friend is even better," she says. Their book, Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, is the "first of its kind," says Elizabeth. Frustrated with the lack of self-help-type books written specifically for young, black, British women, marketing manager Elizabeth asked her friend Yomi, an award-winning journalist, whether she’d be interested in writing it with her. The result is a series of personal essays that tackle work, relationships, beauty, money, education and health from Yomi and Elizabeth’s perspective. They also spoke with 37 inspirational black British women, including BAFTA award-winning director Amma Asante, bestselling author Malorie Blackman, Labour MP Dawn Butler, musician Estelle and Vogue publishing director Vanessa Kingori about their experiences. "There are so many great bits of advice for successful women in the book full stop," says Elizabeth. "You don’t have to be a black British woman to read it."
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For July’s It’s Lit, we visited the two friends at Elizabeth’s home in Birmingham as they prepare for the release of the book later this month. "We have been talking about it for so long we just want people to read it now. It’s our baby," says Yomi.
What are you reading right now?
Yomi: I started Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing yesterday; I was given it to read by my work for our bedtime book club.
Elizabeth: I’m reading Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant; a really interesting read about the characteristics of original thinkers that have shaped the modern world.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Do you read more fact than fiction?
Elizabeth: Absolutely. I like to read personal development books.
Yomi: When I was younger I read loads of fiction but now most of what I read is work-related. We get sent lots of books to read; I’ve just finished Nikesh Shukla’s The One Who Wrote Destiny, which is great, and Zing Tsjeng’s Forgotten Women. There are a lot of books coming out that look at the histories of forgotten women but hers is particularly good and really diverse.
How do you choose what to read next?
Elizabeth: Recommendations. Amazon’s always good too – I like to see what’s on the bestsellers list and what’s being talked about. I also like books that look good – I love coffee table books. If a book looks striking enough to spark conversation it will be promoted from my shelf to my coffee table!
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Yomi: Definitely recommendations and, honestly, if a book looks interesting I’ll pick it up. Elizabeth reads a lot of self-help books and I wouldn’t necessarily read that type of thing but there’s a new wave of books that don’t define themselves as self-help but are more like life hacks. There’s a book called How To Break Up With Your Phone that I’d recommend. Unlike some self-help books, it’s realistic. I’m not interested in books that claim they’re going to completely change my life. Some problems are impossible to read yourself out of, but there are ways you can make life easier.
Are the majority of books you read contemporary?
Yomi: One hundred percent.
Elizabeth: For me, the classics have all been turned into movies; I don’t need to go back and read them all again. Apart from Pride and Prejudice – that’s one of my favourites. I read it almost every year.
What did you read as teenagers?
Elizabeth: Jacqueline Wilson and Jackie Collins. The Jackie Collins books were always in hardback and I knew I shouldn’t be reading them – I was 11, 12? – so I’d sit at the back of the bus and I’d take off the book jacket so you couldn’t tell what I was reading. It was very glamorous; a world away from what I was used to and what my life was. I used to read for escapism when I was younger, I didn’t like reality. Tasmina Perry introduced me to a world I didn’t know existed – basically Made In Chelsea before anyone had heard of it. There was no diversity in those books whatsoever but I really got into it.
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Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Yomi: I really liked Malorie Blackman. She wrote this book called Pig Heart Boy and I remember there was a black boy on the cover, which made me think there was going to be a racial element to the story. I kept waiting for it but it never came; it was like the life I knew and I was really excited by that. Jacqueline Wilson was one of the first people I can remember growing up that showed that working class stories were worth telling. I didn’t realise how depressing her books were – Dustbin Baby, The Suitcase Kid, Tracy Beaker – I don’t remember reading them and thinking it was horrible; it was just real life. Then there were other books, like Sugar Rush, that made you feel really grown up. I’m not gay but that book made me wonder!
When and where do you like to read?
Yomi: On public transport and train journeys. It sounds so bad but I feel like I should be doing something useful at all times so I actually get really annoyed if I leave my book at home and have nothing to read on the commute. I love reading while I’m doing something else. I read on the toilet too!
Elizabeth: I’m similar. I’m a workaholic so I’m not able to just sit there and open a book for pleasure.
Yomi: It’s so bad – I should stop watching Netflix and read more.
Do you have a favourite bookshop?
Elizabeth: I love bookshops but not really the independent ones – I love the big Waterstones – I’d say I wrote half of our book in a Waterstones. I love Foyles too, their displays are really nice and clear. I love to browse in there.
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Yomi: I love a Waterstones too. I went to the Croydon one the other day and felt really nostalgic; I spent so much time in there as a teenager. I like to see books in the flesh – it’s much better than looking at a jpeg online.
Which three books would you recommend to a stranger?
Yomi: I would say The Handmaid’s Tale – it’s one of my favourite books. Also, this is a bit odd because it’s a children’s book, but Holes is another favourite. I read it when I was 14 and it’s stuck with me forever. Then, Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins. I always say this is the book that radicalised me. It’s so brilliant and really articulates the meeting of sexism and racism in a way that I wasn’t aware of. After I read it I was like, "Okay, I’m a rabid feminist now! I’m angry!" – I fucking love that book.
Elizabeth: The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter by Meg Jay. I read that when I turned 21 and I would say that set up my 20s as I know it now. I think we’re told as millennials that life starts at 30 and you have so much time but I don’t buy into that. I believe, and sometimes in extreme ways, that you have to seize the moment and make things count. Not to your detriment, not where you’re doing things you don’t want to do but by being a bit more strategic about your life and your development and where you want to go with your career. The book talks about your relationships and your health as well.
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Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
I could have done with that book in my 20s.
Yomi: I know!
Elizabeth: I’m always telling people about it because it really did help. I wasn’t sure what my 20s would hold and this book gave me perspective and made me more strategic about things. I still come back to it too. I also love We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. My final recommendation would be Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman. It made me realise that racism was really awful. I grew up in Peckham in a very African household and a lot of my friends were black so I wasn’t necessarily aware of how tough things were out there – reading that book made me really understand that the world was scary.
How do you organise your books?
Elizabeth: Whatever’s prettiest goes on the coffee table.
Yomi: Like that Nick Clegg book? You haven’t even read it!
Elizabeth: I remember when I first moved in I put the Nick Clegg book, a book about grime and Otegha’s Little Black Book on the table.
Yomi: That’s you in a nutshell – a liberal grime listener.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Elizabeth: I like having books out that ignite a conversation as soon as you walk in. Then my shelves tend to be paperbacks. They’re not that big so there are books on the window ledges too, and near the TV. I like things to look nice though.
Yomi: Mine aren’t arranged at all. For me it’s simply whether or not they can fit on a certain shelf! I still have all my books from my childhood too. My shelves are a mess!
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How did you choose who you wanted to speak to for your book?
Elizabeth: As black women in the UK, when the media chooses to speak to us it tends to be very one-faceted in terms of sports or entertainment. We really wanted to amplify the voices of women who are doing great things and are trailblazers in their own right but don’t necessarily have that spotlight on them. We tried to make sure we didn’t miss anyone – it was a very conscious decision to include a lawyer and a doctor, for instance – we wanted an eclectic mix of black women.
Yomi: Elizabeth and I are very different in terms of who we see as role models so a lot of the women she looked up to I’d never heard of… we educated each other in the process. It was a balance of making sure the ones who are less visible are seen but also making sure the ones who already have a presence are championed and given a platform to join the conversation as well.
Would you do another book together?
Elizabeth: Maybe…
Yomi: Maybe we’ll have a break first!
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Elizabeth and Yomi’s Reading List
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant
The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla
Forgotten Women by Zing Tsjeng
How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pig Heart Boy by Malorie Blackman
Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson
Sugar Rush by Julie Burchill
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Holes by Louis Sachar
Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins
The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter by Meg Jay
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Little Black Book by Otegha Uwagba
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