At Novella, a women’s writing group based in New York, you can be a Morrison, an Adichie, a Plath, or even a Didion. When you walk into the Lively store on Lafayette street in downtown New York that hosts the gathering every second Tuesday of the month, you are greeted by bubblegum pink walls, a bevy of wine and sparkling water and someone handing you a card with the name of a classic female author. Card in hand, you are asked to join other women who have been assigned the same author where you will share your written response to the prompt of the month.
Founded by 27-year-old Abby Adesanya, who works as a brand manager and strategist for digital publications, the aim for Novella is to get women writing, talking about writing, and sharing their writing with each other. Unlike many exclusive writing groups in this literary city, Adesanya’s group welcomes all kinds of writers and all kinds of women.
For Adesanya, who was born to Nigerian parents in New Jersey, inclusivity is an important aspect of the group. She ensures that the group is open for women of different races, sexualities, and backgrounds to share their work.
“One of the biggest things that we hear from our members and our storytellers that come and join us is that they are so happy and feel so comfortable to be in a space where so many different people are represented and so many different stories are being heard,” said Adesanya.
The prompts for the evening are often nouns, that hint at a larger narrative, like progress, intent or tradition, but for the 60-80 women who gather around every month, they are revealed as personal essays, short stories, poems or simple reflections that convey the writer’s innermost thoughts. The women are not all professional writers, some work in advertising or fashion, while others are aspiring writers or award-winning journalists, but they are all there to write and share with each other.
“It’s all different types of interesting women,” said Atiya Elliott-Semper, a marketing strategist who lives in Brooklyn and has attended over five salons in the last year. When asked what keeps her coming back, she notes that it’s all about the camaraderie.
“Everyone is down-to-earth and it feels familiar,” she responds.
Although Novella is barely two-years-old, the group has amassed a dedicated group of women who never miss a salon. In fact, Leeann DelHoyo Duggan, 34, was an attendee at the first ever salon in October 2017.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I walked in that room, but I soon saw that it offered me so much of what I was looking for in that pivotal time,” DelHoyo Duggan said to ESSENCE.
A few months after her first Salon, Adesanya brought DelHoyo Duggan on as an editorial director for Novella and as of late last year, she officially became a co-founder.
“It’s a space where I and so many other WOC feel instantly at home,” continued DelHoyo Duggan, who is Puerto Rican.
“When I look at pictures from that first salon, I see the strangers who have since become my friends, and given me a sense of community, connection, and joy.”
To close out every salon, Adesanya invites a storyteller each month to share advice and words of wisdom with the attendees. For the month of March, the featured storyteller was Flo Ngala, a New York-based photographer who has quickly risen to fame photographing artists like Cardi B and Gucci Mane.
In a blue embroidered coat, 23-year-old Ngala sat in conversation with Adesanya where she opened up about her meteoric rise in the creative industry. Women, who minutes before were huddled together in their groups sharing stories, kept their eyes peeled on Ngala as she shared advice about beating procrastination and delivering your best work.
“You want to hold yourself accountable before anyone can,” she said.
Hours earlier, Ngala had shared similar advice on the Novella newsletter, which went out to those who follow the group online. According to Adesanya, the online community is simply an extension of the physical group where women’s stories are heard and prioritized. As much as the group is open and accessible, Adesanya cultivates the clan-like nature of groups online by sharing information about future salons with only those subscribed to the newsletter. Alongside event details, Adesanya and her team also share essential information about writing and how women can thrive in the creative industry.
“We’re really vocal about being transparent about rates and being transparent about the real kind of hard stuff about writing,” said Adesanya.
Given the impressive growth of the group, Adesanya plans to build on its success, by reaching more women who can’t make it to the physical salons every month. This includes introducing audio components online and possibly taking the salons to different cities.
Despite the group’s upward trajectory, according to Adesanya, Novella’s main goal will always remains the same.
“As Novella is growing, we’re figuring it out and we’re creating more opportunities for writers at every stage in the process.”