Novella Is the NYC-based Writing Club You Should Know About
If you were to write your life’s story, which literary genre would you choose? Fiction, non-fiction, memoir, essay, poetry? For some, inspiration comes naturally, and so, too, does the writing process. For others, finding inspiration can be harder, and writing can be a craft that sometimes takes a back seat as you figure out how to manifest your creativity and feelings in this world.
For Abby Adesanya, a great stroke of inspiration came in a dream, a dream wherein she would create Novella: an NYC-based writing community for and by women. Inspired by 17th century salons in which everything from birth to beauty to space to age and beyond were discussed, Novella serves as a creative haven for a broad cross-section of female voices in hopes that they find the encouragement they need to explore themselves, the diverse perspectives of those around them, and, ultimately, write their own stories.
We spoke with Abby to find out how Novella is changing the game, what Abby wants participants to take out of each Salon, and what you can further expect as Novella’s one-year anniversary draws near.
Image: Abby Adesanya
Milk Makeup: Novella (nəˈvelə); noun: a short novel or long short story; Why did you name your project after this literary genre? What was the inspiration behind Novella?
Abby Adesanya: I always feel silly saying this because it truly sounds made up, but back in April 2017, I actually dreamed that I started a club for women called Novella (and I made a jumbled 1 AM note on my phone so I wouldn’t forget)! Not all of what I wrote from that dream is in practice today, but the name stuck. “Novella” felt right for a gathering of women who share and interpret their various experiences with one another.
Starting Novella came after a realization that I had accidentally done away with an integral part of myself. I grew up reading and writing, and after years of not doing either of those things once I moved to NYC, I realized that part of me was too important to just let go of. I asked my friends and community their thoughts on what I was planning to do, and it turned out I wasn’t alone.
MMU: What can attendees expect from the Salons?
AA: Each month, Novella sends out a writing prompt with suggested topics via our newsletter and social channels. Readers may respond to the prompt in whichever literary method they please: song, poem, short story, script, etc. We just ask that they keep their work to 5 minutes in spoken length or 2 pages in written length. Participants are invited to share their responses at our monthly gatherings in NYC.
Our Salons begin with a 30-minute social mixer, followed by a 30-minute breakout session where attendees discuss their work in small groups. The evening concludes with a selected speaker presenting their written work, followed by a Q&A with myself and the selected speaker.
MMU: How has your approach to the Salons and the intent of growing your community evolved since Novella started in 2017? How do Novella’s Salons compare with the social structure of its historical definition?
AA: At first, we were primarily sharing the Salons on social media, in Slack channels, and by personal email to anyone who we thought would seem interested. Since then, we’ve watched our community grow on its own and I think the most amazing thing to see is how people talk up Novella to their colleagues once they’ve attended an event or two. Our strongest area of growth comes from word of mouth and newcomers often arrive with a regular, so we try to foster that by being personally welcoming at each salon.
Since Novella started, we’ve been proactively inclusive when it comes to who is welcome to join us at our events. As a woman of color myself, my priority is to always make sure that women of all backgrounds and identities feel at home in whatever spaces we create. If there’s anything I’m most proud of, it’s the diversity we have within our community — it tells me that we started off on the right foot and have kept ourselves at that pace since.
MMU: Why do you think a writing and storytelling club (particularly, one made by and for women) is so important right now? What has been the reaction of the attendees?
AA: I have always thought there is something so special about the unique kinship women have with one another. We’ve always been storytellers — from our group text message threads to mothers passing down lessons to their daughters — and I think it feels natural to connect with another woman on their experiences, relating on some innate level of sister-like understanding. I think our attendees are excited by the opportunity to be creatively expressive outside of work and other obligations, especially when they are sharing their stories in an encouraging, open space.
MMU: The three pillars of Novella are 1.) You must write. 2.) You must be willing to share. 3.) You must be curious. What are the three things you want women to leave with after a Salon is over?
AA: Three things I hope each woman leaves with after a Salon would be 1.) A new friend. 2.) A new perspective. 3.) A smile. Literally so cheesy, but that’s the honest truth.
MMU: What would be the title of your own novella?
AA: This is hard! I think it would be titled Things I Could Say, But I’ll Write Instead. It would talk a lot about my return to writing as a form of comfort and expression, and how that return brought so much change into my life (Novella especially!).
MMU: What can we expect from Novella in the coming months?
AA: We’re super excited about a few things to come: Our 1-year anniversary (A party? Maybe!), the return of our monthly Salons, some amazing new collaborations I think our audience will love, and I’m hoping by 2019 we can expand our reach to more than just New York. We have an almost equal following on the West Coast as we do on the East, so it’s a huge goal for us to go out there. Or maybe host something that will bring all of us together in one place.