Another NetGalley read (I have so many of them published this month, see my State of the TBR post for a mosaic of them all) and one I won really recently (I’ve been turned down for a few recently, too, even though my review rate is over 80% and I’ve been reading books in similar categories; of course I’ll still buy copies of those in the fullness of time). This one is based on a lecture Coel did, but builds around it to produce something I could probably have read for Novellas in November but there you go.

Michaela Coel – “Misfits: A Personal Manifesto”

(31 August 2021 – NetGalley)

Coming from the tiny Square Mile, and a tiny family, what carried me through those five years was the abundance of Black girls, White girls, mixed girls, misfits; my friends were all misfits: a huge gang of commercially unattractive, beautiful misfits who found the mainstream world unattractive.

The kernel of this book is the Edinburgh Festival MacTaggart lecture which Coel, acclaimed actor and writer of the series Chewing Gum and I May Destroy You, gave. The introduction features a sad story about the destruction of a moth leading her to realise she’s anosmic but the main part is more clear and impactful.

Coel takes us through her life as a working class, Black woman trying to make her way in writing and acting. I was interested to see she grew up on an “invisible” council housing estate right in the middle of the City of London as I lived for a couple of years in a similar block in Covent Garden (mainly owner-occupied after Thatcher’s Right to Buy scheme but still with a real mix of residents). That’s by the by, of course, but it was a nice little moment. She’s thrown into a world of misfits early on and thrives on it, a misfit being to her someone who will stand their ground and speak out, a positive thing.

As she goes through school and drama school then work, she experiences racism and calls it out creatively, never accusing anyone directly, just pointing things out that scream inequity. She calls out for other people to stand up to inequity and inequality, to share their own stories and to reach down to help others up:

Why are we platforming misfits, heralding them as newly rich successes, whilst they balance on creaking ladders with little chance of social mobility? I can’t help usher them into this house if there are doors within it they can’t open. It feels complicit. What I can do is be transparent about my own experiences, because transparency helps.

She encourages everyone to make some silence for themselves and have a think about what they are doing in life to help others, about how they operate. She shares a mistake she made with the writing of a person of a different ethnicity to her own, how she was called out for it and how she dealt with it – brave stuff to admit in print and lecture hall. In fact like Shon Faye, writer of “The Transgender Issue” which I’m reading at the moment, she talks strongly about how systems have to be changed not just reactions to one or more race.

I’m going to try to be my best; to be transparent; and to play whatever part i can to help fix this house. What part will you play?

Powerful stuff indeed.

Thank you to Ebury Press for making this available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Misfits” was published on 7 September.