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The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela
16th July 2018

The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela

The Prison Letters of Nelson MandelaKJ

The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela is the first authorised and authenticated collection of letters encompassing all 27 years Mandela spent incarcerated. They form a moving and remarkable insight into how he maintained his inner spirits while living in near constant isolation and kept up a prodigious communication with the outside world. Below, we have three letters from the book that focus on Mandela's unflagging quest to further his education, along with a facsimile of one of these letters. They are a small insight into the resolve and fortitude of one of the twentieth century's most inspiring figures.

 


Letter to the commanding officer

To the commanding officer, Robben Island

 

30th November 1964

The Commanding Officer

Robben Island

 

URGENT

I must pay today Rd 16.0 to the Cultural Attache, British Embassy, Hill Street, Pretoria, in respect of examination entry fees for Part I of the Final LL.B of the University of London.

Last month I wrote to the university for the entry forms and to my wife for the necessary funds. On the 9th of this month, I wrote a further letter to the Cultural Attache for the forms. In neither case have I received an acknowledgement or reply.

I am writing to ask you to wire today Rd 16.0 to the Cultural Attache and to ask him to send me the forms for completion. I may not have sufficient funds for this purpose, and Ahmed Kathrada, Prisoner No. 468, would be prepared, subject to your approval, to cover the entry fees and costs of the telegram.

As the entries for these examinations close today, I shall appreciate it if you would kindly treat the matter as extremely urgent.

 

Nelson Mandela

[Signed] NRMandela

Prisoner no. 466/64

 

[A note in English in red pen and in another hand] I have no objection to the wiring of the R16.00 but I am not prepared that prisoners can borrow money from each other. [Initialled and dated 30.11.].

 

***

 

Mandela studied the Afrikaans language in prison in search of a better knowledge of the history and culture of the ruling National Party and its followers. He believed this would help him to communicate more effectively with his enemy.

It worked. It assisted in breaking down barriers with prison guards and later with government officials and even the country’s president, P. W. Botha1

Here, while making the point that legitimate requests are often ignored, he is reiterating his plea to be able to prepare for his exams by studying past papers of an organisation which promoted Afrikaans, an official South African language from 1925, as well as asking for back copies of an Afrikaans-language women’s magazine, Huisgenoot.

 

***

 

To Major Visser, prison official

 

[stamp dated 25.8.1965]

 

Major Visser,

During the inspection on the 14th August 1965, I tried to speak to you but you did not give me the opportunity of doing so. While the inspection was in progress Chief Warder Van Tonder, who accompanied you, promised to tell you that I had some requests to make, but you left without seeing me. I am now writing to you because the matter has become urgent.

 

1. I am preparing to write an examination on the 29th October 1965. In March this year and early in May, I had made written applications to the Commanding Officer for leave to order old examination papers from the Saamwerk-Unie of Natal as part of my preparation for this examination. You have repeatedly assured me that you have written to the SWU and ordered the required papers and that you awaited their reply. Although the examination is now 2 months away I still have not received the papers.

 

2. I owe the University of South Africa the sum of R40.0 being the balance of fees for an Honours Degree course which I had planned to write in February 1966. In terms of the contract this amount must be paid before the 1st September 1965. On the last occasion I discussed the matter with you, you informed me that you had written to the university. A few days ago, I received the account for this amount and I am anxious to have the matter finalised before it is too late. In this connection I might add that I ordered my study books from Messrs Juta & Co. I asked them to order them if they did not have them in stock and to advise me when they would have them available to enable me to plan my work. I have not heard from them and I would be glad if you would kindly advise me whether the matter has been attended to.

 

3.You also told me that you had ordered the old Huisgenoot2 numbers I required for purposes of study and I wish to remind you that I have not yet received them.

 

4. Several times last year and early this year I applied for a loan of books from the State Library and for enrolment forms. I have not heard from them.

 

I am seriously considering whether in view of the difficulties I have mentioned above, I should write the forthcoming examinations, and I should be pleased if you would give me the opportunity to discuss the whole matter with you.

 

[signed NRMandela]

 

***

 

To the commanding officer, Robben Island

 

October 9, 1969

The Commanding Officer

Robben Island

 

Attention: Major Huiseman

 

I have to advise you that on May 21, 1969, I had an interview with Brigadier Aucamp in the course of which I endeavoured to persuade him to reconsider the decision to terminate post-degree studies at the end of 1969.

He outlined the reasons why the Government had taken this step, and regretted that he was not in a position to assist us in the matter. But he made the important reservation that the above decision would apply only to those who were doing post-degree courses with the University of South Africa, and not to those who were studying with overseas universities. He pointed out that the Department of Prisons had made arrangements with Unisa3 to enable those whose post-degree courses had been interrupted as a result of the above decision to proceed with their studies after they had completed their respective terms of imprisonment.

In so far as I am registered with Unisa as a BA (Honours) student in Political Science, the decision applies to me. But Brigadier Aucamp had further pointed out that I would be allowed to complete my law studies with the University of London, and gave reasons why this concession had been made to me. I have planned to complete the remaining courses on the basis of the information given to me by the Brigadier, and I trust that it will be possible for you to forward all my correspondence to London University.

I might add that from experience I have found it very strenuous, and well-nigh impossible, to sit for four final year subjects at one time, and my only hope of success is to spread the remaining examinations over two years.

I should also like to draw attention to the fact that the prescribed literature is voluminous and expensive and not available in South Africa. To buy it in bulk is far beyond my financial reserves and the only alternative is the relief I seek from the Registrar as set out in the enclosed letter.

 

[Signed N. R. Mandela]

 

 

1. P. W. Botha, president of South Africa 1978–84 and state president 1984–89 

2. Huisgenoot is an Afrikaans-language magazine.

3. University of South Africa.

 


The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela are edited by Sahm Venter, a former Associated Press reporter who covered and witnessed Mandela's release from prison in 1990. She is also a long-standing researcher and co-editor of several books. 

 

 

The Accidental Memoir: The Remarkable Way to Write Your Life Story
13th July 2018

The Accidental Memoir: The Remarkable Way to Write Your Life Story

The Accidental Memoir

The Accidental Memoir is an original and accessible way to write your life story without even trying! It's a mixture of creative and inventive writing prompts, lists and illustrations to jog your memory and is perfect for writers, aspiring writers and non-writers alike. Fill one in yourself and then give one to as many members of your family as possible to record their stories and create a rich and entertaining archive - we're already looking ahead at who's on our Christmas present list.

Originally developed from an idea by Eve Makis into an Arts Council project to help people tap into their own lives, we have Eve's own introduction to the book below, along with some of the beautifully illustrated pages that make The Accidental Memoir so appealing.

 


How The Accidental Memoir came about

 

I needed a Christmas present for my dad. He needed to open up, communicate and feel good about himself. I wanted to give him something unique, to show him how much he was valued. I’ve been a writer and teacher of writing for twenty-five years. Anthony the same. We joined forces and produced a life-writing guide that would draw him out and gather his stories in one place. It worked like a miracle. A man who had fried fish for fifty years of his life wrote heart-felt prose and rhyming couplets. We’d like others to experience the pleasure of writing, for friends and family to gather and talk about their stories, to value their everyday experience. We are all experts in our life. We can all write with a little gentle encouragement and the right prompt.

Eve Makis

Inside The Accidental Memoir

 

The Accidental Memoir spread


The Accidental Memoir spread


The Accidental Memoir spread


The Accidental Memoir spread


Eve Makis studied at Leicester University and worked as a journalist and radio presenter in the UK and Cyprus before becoming a novelist. Her first novel, Eat, Drink and be Married, published by Transworld, was awarded the Young Booksellers International Book of the Year Award. A screen adaptation of her third book, Land of the Golden Apple was screened in April 2017 and won several best in category awards at International Film Festivals. Her fourth novel, The Spice Box Letters, published in five languages, was shortlisted for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, the East Midlands Book Award and received the Aurora Mardiganian Gold Medal.

Anthony Cropper was born in Fleetwood, Lancashire. He has published two novels and a collection of short stories. His play, I'll Tell You About Love won the BBC Alfred Bradley Award for Radio Drama and he recently worked with Bristol Old Vic, writing the screenplay for the short film, Myself in Other Lives. Anthony has taught creative writing both in this country and abroad. He has worked with adult learners on short courses for the University of Hull (Centre for Lifelong Learning) and has also held writing residencies in schools through First Story, a charity set up to promote literacy and storytelling.

 

 

Cara Hunter on writing crime in the shadow of Morse
12th July 2018 - Cara Hunter

Cara Hunter on writing crime in the shadow of Morse

In the Dark by Cara Hunter

In the Dark is Cara Hunter's second book in her D.I. Fawley series. Set in Oxford and incorporating social media snippets, newspaper articles and crime reports, the books are full of suspense and twists that keep you guessing until the very end. Below, Cara talks to us about the pros and cons of writing crime novels set in the city so closely associated with Inspector Morse, and how her detective is a very different type of person. 

 


 

In Morse’s footsteps

 

In the very first draft of Close to Home Oxford doesn’t feature at all. Well, that’s not quite true. There’s a beautiful university city which is pretty easily recognisable as Oxford, but I deliberately didn’t call it that. I called it Kingstead, as a nod to the fact that it was the base for Charles I’s court during the Civil War (‘stead’ derives from the Old English stede, or place, so hence ‘King’s place’). And why did I invent another name? Because I was convinced that, after Morse and Lewis and Endeavour, people would simply have had enough of Oxford. Or at least that’s what I thought. Until I met my (now) editor Katy Loftus at Penguin and almost the first thing she said was, “This is Oxford, right? Then it has to be Oxford.”

 

And she’s been proved absolutely right. I’m sure that one of the reasons the book has sold around the world is because crime fans from China to Croatia know and love this city, and can picture it in their minds as they read. And because it’s where I live myself I can - I hope – bring to life some of the other parts of the city, which have their own distinctive characters, and are worlds away from the ivy-clad quads. Or, at least, appear to be.

 

So far, so good. But setting a crime series in Oxford is about a lot more than just setting. To paraphrase the song, ‘How do you solve a problem like E Morse?” Colin Dexter’s brilliant invention casts such a long shadow over this city that it was daunting to even presume to have someone else walk the same streets. And I am – like so many other people – an absolute devotee myself, so the challenge felt doubly difficult. Bizarre though it sounds, there was a sense of not wanting to ‘mess it up’ – of wanting to write something that would celebrate the legacy in my own small way, rather than contest with it. (And in case you haven’t spotted it already, my bright and sassy female police officer, Erica Somer, was named in homage to Morse, as her surname is an anagram of his).

 

One thing that was obvious right from the start, was that my detective had to be different from Morse. He had to be his own man. Not disappointed in love, not childless, not an old curmudgeon, not an intellectual. In fact, Adam Fawley himself has a bit of fun with all the ways he is ‘not Morse’. As he says in Close to Home: “While I’m at it, the car is a Ford. In case you’re wondering. And I don’t do bloody crosswords either.”

 

So Adam Fawley is not a bachelor but very much in love with his beautiful wife. He’s not childless, or at least he wasn’t, until he lost his only son, Jake, in a tragedy that is only fully revealed towards the end of Close to Home. He’s not bad-tempered, or at least not most of the time, though he does have a short fuse on occasion and a very dry sense of humour. And he’s not an intellectual, though he is clever. Very clever. Which is just as well, because the case he encounters as In The Dark opens is going to be one of the most gruelling and complex of his entire career….

 


Cara Hunter is a writer who lives in Oxford, in a street not unlike those featured in her series of crime books. Close to Home, the first D.I. Fawley novel, was a Sunday Times bestseller and a Richard and Judy book club choice.

 

 

Read an extract from Matt Haig's Notes on a Nervous Planet
6th July 2018

Read an extract from Matt Haig's Notes on a Nervous Planet

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Matt Haig's bestselling Reasons to Stay Alive has helped innumerable people understand and navigate their own mental health. In Notes on a Nervous Planet, Matt delves once again into his own personal experiences and extends a helping hand to everyone feeling overwhelmed by modern life. We've an extract from the book below.

 

We have a limited number of signed First Editions of Notes on a Nervous Planet, available while stock lasts.

 


The world is having a panic attack 

 

Panic is a kind of overload.

 

That is how my panic attacks used to feel. An excess of thought and fear. An overloaded mind reaches a breaking point and the panic floods in. Because that overload makes you feel trapped. Psychologically boxed in. That is why panic attacks often happen in over-stimulating environments. Supermarkets and nightclubs and theatres and overcrowded trains. 

 

But what happens when overload becomes a central characteristic of modern life? Consumer overload. Work overload. Environmental overload. News overload. Information overload. 

 

The challenge today, then, is not that life is necessarily worse than it once was. In many ways, human lives have the potential to be better and healthier and even happier than in eras past. The trouble is our lives are also cluttered. The challenge is to find who we are amid the crowd of ourselves. 

 

Places I have had panic attacks 

 

Supermarkets. 

The windowless basement floor of a department store. 

A packed music festival. 

At a nightclub. 

On an aeroplane. 

On the London underground. 

In a tapas bar in Seville. 

In the BBC News green room. 

On a train from London to York (it lasted most of the journey). 

In a cinema. 

In a theatre. 

At a corner shop. 

On a stage, feeling unnatural, with a thousand faces staring at me. 

Walking through Covent Garden. 

Watching the TV. 

At home, very late at night, after a busy day, with a streetlight glowing an ominous orange through the curtains. 

In a bank. 

In front of a computer screen.

 


Matt Haig author photo

Matt Haig is the number one bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and six highly acclaimed novels for adults, including How to Stop Time, The Humans and The Radleys. He has also written books for children and has won the Blue Peter Award, the Smarties Book Prize and has been shortlisted three times for the Carnegie Medal. He has sold more than a million books in the UK and his work has been translated into over forty languages.

 

Photo credit: Kan Lailey

 

 

Read an extract from There There by Tommy Orange
5th July 2018

Read an extract from There There by Tommy Orange

There There by Tommy Orange

"Orange’s rousing call for his people to be recognised, full of his generation's anxiety and determination, resonates long after you've finished the book. All of this delivered in bold, assertive prose, whose idiosyncratic rhythms strikingly carry both action and lyricism."

Elodie, Marketing Team

 

There There is Tommy Orange's debut novel. Inspired by the author’s own experiences as a member of a Native American community in urban Oakland, California, it is a book of great social and political urgency told through a multi-generational story encompassing violence, hope, identity, dislocation and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. ​There There is our Debut of the Month, and during July you can buy it for half-price both in-store and online. We have an extract from this remarkable book, below.

 

We have a limited amount of signed First Editions of There, There. Available while stocks last!

 


Orvil manages to get the regalia on and steps in front of the full length mirror on Opal’s closet door. Mirrors have always been a problem for him. The word stupid often sounds in his head when he looks at himself in the mirror. He doesn’t know why, but it seems important. And true. The regalia is itchy and faded in color. It’s way too small. He doesn’t look the way he hoped he would. He doesn’t know what he expected to find. Being Indian didn’t fit either. And virtually everything Orvil learned about being Indian he’d learned virtually. From watching hours and hours of powwow footage, documentaries on YouTube, by reading all that there was to read on sites like Wikipedia, PowWows.com, and Indian Country Today. Googling stuff like “What does it mean to be a real Indian,” which led him several clicks through some pretty fucked-up, judgmental forums, and finally to an Urbandictionary.com word he’d never heard before: Pretendian. 

 

Orvil knew he wanted to dance the first time he saw a dancer on TV. He was twelve. It was November, so it was easy to find Indians on TV. Everyone else had gone to bed. He was flipping through channels when he found him. There on the screen, in full regalia, the dancer moved like gravity meant something different for him. It was like break dancing in a way, Orvil thought, but both new—even cool—and ancient-seeming. There was so much he’d missed, hadn’t been given. Hadn’t been told. In that moment, in front of the TV, he knew. He was a part of something. Something you could dance to. 

 

And so what Orvil is, according to himself, standing in front of the mirror with his too-small-for-him stolen regalia, is dressed up like an Indian. In hides and ties, ribbons and feathers, boned breastplate, and hunched shoulders, he stands, weak in the knees, a fake, a copy, a boy playing dress-up. And yet there’s something there, behind that stupid, glazed-over stare, the one he so often gives his brothers, that critical, cruel look, behind that, he can almost see it, which is why he keeps looking, keeps standing in front of the mirror. He’s waiting for something true to appear before him—about him. It’s important that he dress like an Indian, dance like an Indian, even if it is an act, even if he feels like a fraud the whole time, because the only way to be Indian in this world is to look and act like an Indian. To be or not to be Indian depends on it.

 


Tommy Orange Author Photo

Tommy Orange was born and raised in Oakland and is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. He is a recent graduate from the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He is a 2014 MacDowell Fellow, and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow. He currently lives in Angels Camp, California.

 

 

Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible
4th July 2018 - Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené

Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible

The inspirational Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené have created the book to guide black women through the 21st century. It features interviews with some of Britain's most successful black women, shares their experiences and celebrates their  achievments. Below we have an exclusive introduction to the book's creation from both Yomi and Elizabeth, and an extract from Slay in Your Lane.

 


Yomi Adegoke

We have several hopes and dreams for the book, and they continue to grow and change daily. But our most basic and fixed hope is that our book actually, tangibly helps people. We hope it helps black women manoeuvre tricky situations in work, dating, education etc, through the practical advice and tips. There are a host of wonderful books out there that aid women in tackling certain issues head on - we hope that black women will be able to find specific, tailored advice where those books weren’t able to provide it. 

 

We hope it helps black women articulate their unique experiences that are so often invisibilised. For us, it was really important to ensure that we helped highlight and give credence to things that so many of us have sensed but have felt unable to verbalise or prove. With a combination of statistical evidence and data, as well as the anecdotes from our roster of incredible interviewees, we aim to ensure genuine concerns and experiences are not ever again written off as a mere “chip on a shoulder”.

 

We hope this book helps black women unlock their potential and find comfort in seeing themselves and their identities reflected back at them. Several of our interviewees have said in order to achieve it, you have to see it - Slay In Your Lane ensures that black British women (and girls) are given the opportunity to see they can truly be whatever they want to be, despite the limitations society seeks to set.

 

And finally, we hope it helps those living outside the black and female experience in the UK understand what that experience is. And furthermore,  how they can be true allies. Several times, white men have asked whether they too can read and enjoy this book, and we hope Slay In Your Lane ushers in a future where this question isn’t even asked. As women who have read about the experiences of white men our whole lives, we believe this book is crucial reading that everyone can learn from.

 

***

Elizabeth Uviebinené

Slay in Your Lane was inspired by exasperation and optimism. 

 

Firstly, exasperation because as black women when we first enter a workplace we can often discover unwritten rules for getting ahead that we struggle to understand, let alone follow, and therefore, unlike our white male or female counterparts, we can’t hit the ground running, even with all the enthusiasm and ambition in the world. We can sometimes often find ourselves shut out of the informal networks that help white men and women find jobs, mentors and sponsors, and through no fault of our own, we then fail to navigate these spaces successfully. I therefore sought advice where so many women do: in books. I bought Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and although there were parts that I learned from and related to, it failed to address the uniquely challenging experiences faced by me and women like me. And why would it? Sandberg can only speak to one facet of my being, my womanhood, which, for me, is wholly intertwined with my identity as a black woman. I spotted that black women weren't widely represented in these genre of books and something needed to be done to broaden the conversation in this category to include our voices. 

 

Alongside this I was also optimistic and positive about the black female experience and I met successful and inspiring black women from a variety of industries at networking events. 

 

This all led me to call Yomi who’s my best friend and a journalist. I said “Why don’t you write a book that will speak to young black girls, not just myself? We later decided to work on the book together and established that even though we didn’t have all the advice, we’d go out and ask black British women in a range of fields how they got ahead in their careers. During that conversation it became apparent that it wasn’t just going to be about work, it was also going to be fleshed out into various facets of life from education to dating to health and money management. It essentially became a black girl bible.

 


Extract

‘It’s Always a Race Thing With Her’

ELIZABETH

‘Work twice as hard to be considered half as good’ was a saying that I, like most black women, grew up with. But it was only as I began my twenties and started to experience more of the world that it really started to hit home.

 

Slay In Your Lane is the love child of exasperation and optimism. I can’t pinpoint the exact incident that tipped me over the edge – the various microaggressions start to blur into one after some time – but after one particularly frustrating week at work, I realised I was done. Done with feeling conscious of my blackness and femaleness and apologising for just existing. Like me, my black female friends have the ambition and drive to succeed within spaces that were not initially set up for us to excel in, but we have all found that navigating them has proved to be a challenge at times.

 

I sought advice where so many women do: in books. I bought Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and although there were parts that I learned from and related to, I felt it failed to address the uniquely challenging experiences faced by me and women like me. And why would it? Sandberg can only speak to one facet of my being, my womanhood, which, for me, is wholly intertwined with my identity as a black woman.

 

So I went looking for black women at networking events who could speak to my experience, and advise me on how best to navigate my way through the challenges I saw ahead of me. I still felt optimistic and positive about the black female experience and I met successful and inspiring black women from a variety of industries – from a tech entrepreneur turning over six figures to a Magic Circle lawyer carving out her place in a male-dominated field. We shared stories about the challenges we encountered and the triumphs we could see on the horizon. These women were not the finger-snapping stereotypes from a TV series, to which society often reduces the black female experience. They were not monolithic; they were awe-inspiring, amazing and relatable. But something just didn’t add up: why were they only celebrated at ticketed events with limited numbers of seats? I would leave these events feeling reassured that I wasn’t alone, but also saddened that this sense of sisterhood ended with the event. This longing led me to call my best friend, Yomi, who is a journalist, to persuade her to be the one to take on the challenge of amplifying these women’s voices and utilising their priceless advice on a bigger scale. I asked her to write a book that spoke to me, and other young, black, twenty-something women navigating life. Later, we decided to work on this campaign together.

 

Role models matter to the next generation more than ever, and black British women and girls have them in vast amounts, but you wouldn’t guess that from a glance at the shelf of your average bookstore. We need a movement that amplifies the voices and increases the visibility of black women who have been made thoroughly invisible by the mainstream. That’s what Slay In Your Lane hopes to be; we hope to offer confidence and inspiration, but also, most importantly, support to other black women who are in the process of building their own foundation and who will, if the world has its way, be constrained by the limitations society tries to place upon us.

 

There is a saying: ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ but how about 39 of the most trailblazing black women in Britain? Slay In Your Lane is the personal-development course I never knew I needed; as you read this book I hope it gives you the tools and support to be in the driving seat of your life and not a mere passenger. Slay In Your Lane is #BlackGirlMagic personified. It is exactly what we’ve been waiting for: a chance to revel in the achievements of those who ran so we could fly, as well as to encourage those who are just about to take flight.

 

YOMI

I owe a great deal to the TV medical comedy, Scrubs.

 

In an episode in Season 3, the white female doctor Elliot Reid turns to the black male doctor Christopher Turk and says he has ‘no idea how hard it is’ being a woman in their profession. ‘I have no idea?’ he says, eyebrow raised. ‘Look, I’m not gonna fight about whether in medicine it’s harder being black or a woman,’ she responds. ‘Black!’ Turk shouts. ‘Woman!’ Elliot retorts. At that very moment, a black female doctor passes them slowly. ‘Much props, Dr Rhodes,’ says an awkward Turk. The pair shuffle on the spot.

 

Something that my then 13-year-old self had already frequently experienced but had never been able to articulate was perfectly captured in a 30-second skit: that the different facets of my identity – being black, being a woman – impact on who I am, and what my experience in this country is. It explained why I only somewhat related to stories focused on black men and white women. It highlighted why seeing my identity and my experience reflected mattered. Scrubs had just explained what, years later, I would realise went by the name of ‘intersectionality’ – and I immediately felt seen.

 

Being black and British, people know our parents are from somewhere else before we even open our mouths. Or if not our parents, our grandparents. Or great grandparents. We are tattooed with our otherness. We are hypervisible in predominantly white spaces, but somehow, we often remain unseen. Growing up, I felt keenly the dearth of visible black British women in the stories our society consumed and it made me feel all sorts of things. It made me feel as if I was invisible, too. It made me feel frustrated. It made me feel annoyed, upset and, most of all, restless. Restless, because I knew (or at least hoped) that when I was old enough, I’d one day be a part of changing things.

 

I attempted to do something about it when I turned 21, breathlessly starting up a publication aimed at young black girls in the UK. Birthday Magazine was the primordial goop from which Slay in Your Lane was indirectly spawned. Its aims were similar: to outline the black female experience as well as excellence, and offer equal amounts of realism and optimism. It was a small-scale attempt to uplift; its distribution was local and the team was small, but its impact was larger than I expected. Slay In Your Lane was the next logical step that I didn’t see coming, but Elizabeth did, animated by the very frustration, annoyance and restlessness that my younger self had felt.

 

Now, at 26, the same sense of restlessness has begun to set in, but this time it is without the anger, or even the upset. The current overriding emotion I feel is unbounded hopefulness, because black British women in 2018 are well past making waves – we’re currently creating something of a tsunami. From authors to politicians, to entrepreneurs to artists, black women in the UK continue to thrive against all odds and well outside of the world’s expectations. Women who look and talk like me, grew up in similar places to me, are shaping almost every societal sector, from the bottom and, finally, from all the way up at the top. All a younger Yomi would’ve wished for was the ability to learn from them; an older Yomi wishes for pretty much exactly the same thing.

 

If white women fear the glass ceiling, black women fear a seemingly impenetrable glasshouse. We’re blockaded from all sides and there is little to no literature on offer to advise us as to how we’re supposed to push on. So much is currently happening on an individual level to combat this, and it’s of paramount importance that it is recorded, noted and passed on. We almost never hear of the persistence, perseverance and drive that fosters such success. Perhaps more importantly, we rarely hear of the failures, the flops and the insecurities that black British women have managed to push through to get to where they are today. We rarely hear about black British women, full stop. And this silence can be just as damaging as the negativity of which we’re so often on the receiving end.

 

Throughout my teenage years I was a keen reader, and I am no anomaly – findings from a 2014 study by the National Literacy Trust show that black girls are more likely to read than any other ethnic group in the UK. Yet books rarely touch meaningfully on the black British experience – and even less so the black British female experience. As a part of this group, I have a vested interest in Slay In Your Lane that goes beyond simply wanting to write a book. I guess you could say that Elizabeth and I are writing this as much for ourselves as we are for other black women. Just like our peers, our friends and our sisters, we are still learning how to navigate the workplace, the dating world and life in general.

 

We’re not here to tell you that if you simply go for gold, put your mind to it and believe, that you can will yourself out of systemic racism. As pointed out by Elizabeth, even your parents would’ve no doubt once said that you’d have to work ‘twice as hard’ and meritocracy is a myth – and stats continually prove this. But what we are saying is that there is much empowerment and inspiration to be gained from the many women who have jumped over the very hurdles that you too will find yourself up against. There are practical ways to aid you to win, and admitting that there will be difficulties and challenges along the way doesn’t mean submitting to defeat. It means coming to battle armed and prepared.

 


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Yomi Adegoke is an award-winning journalist and senior writer at The Pool. She writes about race, feminism, popular culture and how they intersect, as well as class and politics. In 2013 she founded Birthday Magazine, a publication aimed at black teenage girls and this year was listed as one of the 200 Women Redefining the Creative Industry by The Dots. She was also named as a 'frontline pioneer' bringing the fight to 'a new generation' by the Evening Standard.

Elizabeth Uviebinené is a Marketing Manager at a leading global brand. She graduated from Warwick University in 2013 with a Politics and International relations degree and specialises in creating marketing campaigns that are both culturally progressive and commercially relevant.

 

 

 

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