Meet The Young Black Women Breaking Into Britain's Very White Publishing Industry

  • Victoria Sanusi
  • Yomi Adegoke
  • Elizabeth Uviebinené

Of the thousands of books published in the UK in 2016, fewer than 100 were written by authors who aren't white, research suggests. A fresh generation of writers, however, are refusing to let their stories be sidelined.

(Article originally published by BuzzfeedUK)
Illustration credit: Rebecca Hendin / BuzzFeed

It appears to be a good moment for black British writing.
That's perhaps a curious statement to make in the face of research that paints a bleak picture of diversity within the publishing industry, but with a wave of books from young black women due to be released over the next few years, there is something to be cheerful about.
Fed up of not seeing their lives reflected in print, a new generation of female writers are knocking at the door of publishing houses determined to change that. And if that doesn't work, they're prepared to go it alone.
Friends Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene, from London, are the duo behind Slay in Your Lane, a book they describe as a “black girl bible”.
The book, they tell BuzzFeed News, was born out of frustration. Uviebinene, a 24-year-old marketing manager, recalls how she phoned up her longtime friend Adegoke and had a heartfelt conversation about how the challenges of being a black young woman living in Britain were getting her down. “There were things I was going through that I wasn’t sure how to navigate,” she says.
"I want us to be careful not to fetishise young black women’s voices – they’re not ‘a thing’ or ‘so hot right now’. They have always been important and always will be."
Adegoke, a multimedia journalist for Channel 4 News, suggested the pair put their heads together and write the inspirational, relatable book they wanted to read. “Black women have a lot of things to navigate such as work, health, representation, and education," she tells BuzzFeed News. "We need something so specific to our experiences."
Months later, after a bidding war between nine publishers, 4th Estate – a small publishing house owned by HarperCollins that also works with author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – won the rights.
Slay in Your Lane will document the stories of influential black women in the UK across different fields, including Ade Hassan, founder of Nubian Skin, a nude lingerie and hosiery line for women of colour, and Anne-Marie Imafidon, CEO of Stemettes, an organisation that helps young women get into STEM careers.
Through their accounts, the authors hope to elevate and encourage black girls and women. Adegoke says the book’s Black British focus is important. “We are black and British women and we want to focus on our own experiences and struggles, and that’s the biggest driving force for this book,” she says.
“This book will explore racism, misogyny, sexism – we are not going to pretend it doesn't exist, it does exist, but we are here to say there are thousands of Black British women who have done amazing things, and hopefully, you'll see there are limitations but they don't have to define you.”
Uviebinene says the pair want to see the idea of “slaying in your lane” become a movement. “We want Slay in Your Lane to become a verb with an ethos behind it,” she says. “This book is written by us and for us. We want black women to carve out their own lane and share the challenges that will arise.”
Very few publishers hold data on the ethnicity of their authors so it's something that's hard to audit, but statistics compiled by The Bookseller found that out of thousands of titles published in the UK in 2016, fewer than 100 were by authors who aren't white.
When asked why 4th Estate was keen to secure the rights to Slay In Your Lane, the firm's publishing director Helen Garnons-Williams says she was taken by the authors' "energy and positivity". "A wake-up call is clearly needed, in publishing, in business and in our wider society," she says, "and Yomi and Elizabeth are putting together a formidably impressive alarm clock."
"The purpose for the book was very clear and we did not want to move the focus from black women, so we published the book ourselves."
4th Estate will also publish Little Black Book: A Toolkit for Working Women by Otegha Uwagba this summer. Nigerian-born Uwagba, who was raised and lives in south London, is the founder of Women Who, a London-based platform that connects creative working women.
Her book, described by the publisher as an "invaluable companion for women starting up in the creative industries and beyond", was originally written and self-published in 2016. Uwagba, 26, says she expected to sell about three or four copies per week at the most. Instead, she sold 250 in two days.
“Someone who bought the book gave it to 4th Estate and that’s how it all began. It’s incredible," she tells BuzzFeed News. “I wasn’t looking for a book deal. It wasn't a thing that I had envisioned – it was really just one of many special projects from Women Who."
The revamped version of Little Black Book includes "extra chapters and a fresh look cover", Uwagba says. “There will be a 'words of wisdom' chapter filled with inspiring women creatives. Some of them will be Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Penny Martin [editor of The Gentlewoman], Caryn Franklin MBE, Lynette Nylander [deputy editor of i-D], and a few other exciting ones I'm not sure I can reveal yet."
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