Photography by Megan Mack
Abby Adesanya is the Founder of Novella and a brand marketer based in NYC. As a writer since childhood, she is passionate about weaving storytelling into every narrative of her work, as well as advocating for the advancement and success of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.
Girls At Library: Why did you start Novella?
Abby Adesanya: I’ve always loved literary stuff – reading, writing, stories, all of it. I have stacks of composition books back at home full of weird stories I used to tell my 4th Grade teacher (She noticed I liked the writing assignments best and gave me a notebook I could what whatever I wanted in and share with her after class. Most thoughtful thing a teacher has ever done for me.) So, a few years after I moved to NYC post-college, I realized I hadn’t picked up a book or pen for leisure since graduation. It was a concerning feeling. I knew I must not have been alone because I was right there with my friends complaining about a lack of time for reading mid-sips of casual mimosas on a Saturday afternoon. Not that I don’t love Saturday mimosas, but I thought there had to be a way to hold myself accountable for the things that I love again. I am also so passionate about the stories women tell that I wanted to figure out how to put those two together. After some guidance and some tweaks, Novella came to life. And now not only I, but we all have a “thing,” a writing community that is ours and I’m really proud of it!
GAL: You're a writer. Which form of writing is your favorite? Which one do you wish you were better at?
AA: I love to write fiction and personal essays. I wish I was better at fiction! I recently went through my old email address and found so many storylines and stunted drafts for novels that I wish I could pick back up. I used to be so good! Now, it’s easier for me to tell the world about a personal experience than write a completely made up and fleshed out tale, but that’s what I always loved about stories. They aren’t totally yours but you can still imagine yourself within it – although, I like to think that people who read my personal essays could see themselves within them too.
GAL: What's currently in your purse? Do you carry books with you?
AA: I do carry books with me! Right now, I have bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward in my bag, given to me by a new friend. I read a couple poems on the train in to work today and was shaken. It’s very good. I also have my Moleskine notebook (essential), my wallet, glasses, gum, and some Novella stickers floating around.
GAL: Why is it satisfying to work for a magazine?
AA: I work in marketing for a couple magazines I grew up ripping out pages from and taping to my wall, so overall it is pretty satisfying to be here. As much as I believed I would end up in NYC, I didn’t know how it would happen, let alone know that I’d eventually appear on the masthead of Glamour magazine. It is such an achievement to little awkward 11-year-old me, I wish I could hug that Abby and tell her she was going to be putting those ads in the pages one day.
GAL: Is it ever dissatisfying to work for a magazine?
AA: It’s dissatisfying when you’re not able to see your vision come to life in the ways you wish because of standards, money, rules, regulations, etc. I think we’re moving forward as an industry in terms of inclusivity and representation but I also realize that I live in a fabulous bubble where everyone celebrates differences, so I sometimes forget that tons of these subscribers come from outside metropolitan areas. They’re in Oklahoma, Alabama, and Arkansas, and we have to be able to speak to them too. So, it can be tough. But we’ll get there!
GAL: If you could suggest ONE book for every young woman to read, what would it be and why?
AA: Woosh! One book? Okay okay, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. As a woman of color, I am overly passionate about intersectional feminism so I practically hug pieces of work that share the experiences of non-white women while still creating a narrative to which all women can respond, “Yes, I get this. Yes, I’m learning from this.” I feel like that blend can be hard to achieve and Roxane’s essays do just that.
GAL: Which magazines are your favorites? Should we subscribe to them?
AA: I love indie magazines and ones that are super thoughtful in their design and content. My favorites are The Gentlewoman, Cherry Bombe, Here Magazine, The Great Discontent, and of course, Golly. I miss Lucky Peach. Yes, subscribe to them! I also love instant gratification so I grab them if I see them in stock somewhere.
GAL: What was the name of the first book you fell in love with, that turned you into a life long reader?
AA: This is so hard to pick! I will say the first book that came to mind, that I probably haven’t thought of since childhood, is The Doll People by Ann M. Martin. I was looking for a book I could “relate to” as a 10-year-old because The Baby-Sitters Club was all about teens and I just wasn’t there yet. Imagine my delight when I realized Ann M. Martin was also the author of BSC! I honestly felt so cool. But before The Doll People came Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which might have been the real catalyst for my book obsession. I remember I slept with a book under my pillow every night – reading was the first thing I did in the morning, last thing I did before bed - and by the time we got to The Goblet of Fire, I couldn’t put the books under my pillow anymore.
GAL: What is the power of story? Describe some ways in which fictional narratives have impacted you and your life.
AA: The power of story was always fascinating because I could make what I wanted of it. As a kid, I was a full-on escapist with a vivid imagination and that was what was so powerful about books to me. I loved that reading in my bedroom could take me to England, as Georgia Nicolson in Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, figuring out how to navigate her relationship with Robbie, the Sex God. I just really enjoyed living other people’s lives for a while - New Jersey was boring, I wanted glamour. I would imagine being Serena van der Woodsen in Gossip Girl, which was just totally unrealistic. Looking back, I wish I read a few more books about little tween black girls like me because I would have been able to see myself in those stories more, but luckily, books are forever so I get to do that now.
GAL: How often do you read? Everyday? Six hours a week? Please estimate.
AA: I try to read every couple of days, worst comes to worst, on weekends. I have a short work commute so reading a book and only getting through 2-3 pages a ride was pretty unsatisfying. I ended up going from someone who read almost every single day from childhood to college, to moving to NYC as an adult and making zero effort to even read a book jacket. I noticed that it really took a toll on me, though for a while I couldn’t figure out what was missing. After getting back into reading this past year, I realized books have made me feel like myself again. Corny but true!
GAL: Do you have a current – or “forever”– favorite book?
AA: For laughs, I will always love Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes. I have read that book at least 21 times. Even mentioning it makes me want to read it again right now. Forever, I’ll love Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Who doesn’t? Especially as a first-generation Nigerian-American woman whose family members tried so hard to assimilate after immigration, or successfully immigrate at all, I understood so much of Ifemelu and Obinze’s personal and peripheral experiences. It really is a wonderful novel and I love that people across cultures agree.
GAL: Who is your favorite author? (If impossible to choose please name two.)
AA: Another hard one! Old school, I really loved Frances Hodgson Burnett. A Little Princess was my everything. Today, I have strong feelings about Lesley Nneka Arimah. I’m looking forward to what comes next from her, What It Means When a Man Falls From The Sky was incredible.
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to reread for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
AA: Bergdorf Blondes for perfect chick lit, all novels in the Private series for well-written YA boarding school drama, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, my favorite HP book, You Can’t Touch My Hair because agreed on all accounts, and In The Company of Women. I love to go through this collection of wonderful ladies whenever I need some inspiration/uplift.
GAL: Do you have a current favorite reading spot? Where is it?
AA: On a couch with a blanket. I want to be absorbed entirely by my book.
GAL: Or – can you read anywhere - place is not important?
AA: I can read standing on a train but it’s just not as enjoyable.
GAL: Is it important for you to physically hold a book you read? Or can you read on a device with no problem and no impact on the experience?
AA: I think it is important to me. I’ve tried to read off an iPad several times, even completed a couple books that way, but it’s not the same honestly. Books have a smell, a texture, and a whole level of familiarity that you just don’t get with e-readers. I’m also migraine prone so intense screen-reading is never too great for my eyes. I need paperback!
GAL: How do you choose the books you read?
AA: When I had time to go through the library, I would just comb through every book spine in the Young Adult or Fiction section. If the book was pink, metallic, bold, or written by a woman –I was reading it. Now, I keep up with books more via places like GAL (!), NYT, and Lit Hub, Amazon suggestions, and recommendations from friends.
GAL: Do you prefer non-fiction to fiction? If so, why?
AA: I prefer fiction because I get to imagine myself in the story. Non-fiction has always seemed “purposeful” to me, like it’s there when you need the truth. Fiction was what felt like exploration. But I did just pick up Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen (great reviews and that excellent cover) and I’m very excited to read it.
GAL: If you read non-fiction, what genre do you prefer?
AA: If I read non-fiction, it’s usually an essay collection or a book of interviews with women.
GAL: If you were to write your memoir, what would you title it?
AA:Black Girl with a Headache. It would include all my first world headaches (too much wine, screen strain, the physical response to an all-nighter) plus the ones that came just from my experiences as a female POC in New York.
GAL: Please name three books you recommend reading, and the reasons for your choices.
AA: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann - it was an exciting but tragic read that still holds up today.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – the first time I read this, I felt like Chimamanda took all those small thoughts that pop into your head after someone’s off-hand comment or mid-touchy-conversation on gender, wrapped it up neatly, and put them a book. It is just great.
Slow Days, Fast Company by Eve Babitz. I haven’t gotten to Sex & Rage yet so that answer might change but for now, Slow Days, Fast Company was a new arena for me as I never read books about Los Angeles but found myself ready to defect coasts by the end of it.