Otegha Uwagba is the founder of Women Who, a platform she created to connect and support creative working women, and an endeavour inspired by her time working at some of London’s top ad agencies and Vice Media. To launch the platform, Otegha wrote Little Black Book, which sold out almost instantly and showcased the content that would be provided on Women Who. During her talk at Nicer Tuesdays in August 2016, Otegha explained how she wanted to help “women who are similar to collaborate” and highlighted how working as a woman “is an entirely different experience from being a man”. Otegha is also a freelance writer and consultant and a new volume of Little Black Book: A Toolkit for Working Women is set to be published by 4th Estate in June.
For International Women’s Day Women Who is running a workshop with artist and print designer Kelly Anna at Downstairs at Mother, and we decided to catch up with Otegha to find out which books have inspired her along the way. From a tome about race, feminism and life by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to texts she first discovered in English class at school, Otegha’s bookshelf is an enlightening read.
Isabel Allende: The House of The Spirits
Having discovered Gabriel García Márquez as a teenager, I went on to immerse myself in the characteristically beautifully layered narratives of Latin American magical realist writers. Isabel Allende’s The House of The Spirits is another favourite, seamlessly weaving together very human stories of family and love with a darker political narrative that mirrors a tumultuous period of Chilean history. Allende is also responsible for one of my all-time favourite quotes, on the topic of overcoming creative block: “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up too”. It’s so powerful in its simplicity, and when I’m struggling with my own work I take comfort in the fact that even writers of her calibre also occasionally find themselves creatively adrift.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has shaped my outlook on life, race, and feminism more so than any writer or public figure, so it’s difficult to pick just one of her books as my favourite (and tempting to plump for the universally adored We Should All Be Feminists). Still, I found I connected with Americanah on a very personal level, given that as a Nigerian woman living in the West, the protagonist Ifemelu’s experiences as a black woman “out of context” in many ways closely mirror mine. What I love most about the book is Adichie’s centring of a black female reality, at the heart of which is her continual and casual references to black women’s relationship with their hair. It’s a wonderful thing to see the reality of your everyday life reflected in print, without “othering” it by over-explaining it, and something that for women of colour is all too rare.
Gerard Durrell: My Family And Other Animals
Another relic from my teenage years, I first read this as an English Literature set text at school, but it was only when I re-read it as an adult that I truly fell in love with it. Durrell’s classic is the ultimate in escapism, and the vibrancy, warmth, and wit with which he paints his family and the various oddball characters that shaped his teenage years has made this my go-to whenever I want a book that will lift my mood.
Hilton Als: White Girls
Although Hilton Als is undoubtedly a brilliant writer, I must admit that the main thing that initially drew me to this book was its cover. I love its bold design, and the delightfully provocative (and very knowing) title, and secretly relish the slightly quizzical looks it elicits from fellow commuters whenever I pull it out on public transport. Obviously Hilton Als being Hilton Als, the contents more than live up to the cover, and this is a stunning combination of memoir, essay and cultural critique from the point of view of one of the most underrepresented perspectives in literature.
Gabriel García Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude
I first read this book when I was around 15 years old, and it imprinted itself onto my heart forever. Márquez’s writing is so rich and evocative, and his ability to conjure up fully fleshed-out worlds from out of nowhere is second to none. Last year I visited Colombia (where Márquez is from), and stayed in several of the cities that are said to influence his writing. It was incredible to be able to put his work into context, and my only regret was not bringing a copy of this book with me to re-read while I was there.
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