We may not be in 17th century France, but the desire for cultural gatherings centered on literature, camaraderie and good conversation is perhaps stronger in modern society than ever before, as we become ever more splintered into our private digital worlds.
One young woman, Abby Adesanya, is bringing back the salon with a few current updates, like catering from Dig Inn and free wine — although that was probably always part of the equation. Specifically, towards the end of last year Adesanya launched Novella, a community that hosts Salons (four so far) where female-identifying people prepare a short piece of writing to share with one another in small, randomly assigned groups before coming back together for a broader, themed discussion.
The free events, which currently happen monthly, fill up during online registration in about 10 minutes. We spoke with Adesanya about why women-only spaces are important, how she plans to scale her project and why she never wants to charge people to attend:
What inspired you to start Novella?
I started Novella because i grew up always reading and writing and it was always such a huge part of my life. Once I moved to New York I stopped making time for it, and it took some time for me to realize that something was missing. I prioritized brunch, I prioritized parties, but not making time for the stuff that I love which is reading and writing.
What happened next?
And I couldn't be the only one who felt that way, so I started talking to people about it and sharing our stories together. When you start telling people that you want to start something, they're like, "Okay, where is it? what happened to that thing you wanted to start?" [Laughing]
Once I started, lots of people raised their hands to help. Now we've got this really amazing community of really thoughtful, kind women in the room, and it's been a really fun ride ever since.
What do you think the value of a women-only space is?
I've always been super amazed by the sense of camaraderie women have in general. I think going through life as a woman is completely different — and this is for all women, anyone who identifies as a woman, identifies as female.
That experience is so unique to us, and I think being able to be in a space where you're able to tell your story and at the very least you have a common place in the room, like "I totally understand that because I am a woman." I think that's kind of why #MeToo and a lot of these movements have taken off because it's a community of understanding. Creating places where we can be super honest and open with each other is so important, and I've always wanted to have a space where women can share their stories.
It was such a diverse mix of people when I went. Is that something you see every time? And has that been surprising to you? Or how have that been for you?
That's probably my proudest thing, that everyone is so diverse. I am a woman of color myself, and I think i really try to prioritize spaces that are inclusive, and that's why I say it's for all women, not just fem, cisgendered women. It's for everyone. I hope that I can cultivate a space where everyone feels comfortable coming and so seeing so many different people from everywhere all types of backgrounds has touched my heart. It's something that's been at the core of my goals for Novella.
Have you seen a lot of repeat faces, and people coming back?
I have, and I've met so many people. You're getting to meet people and you kind of know every month you're going to go back and hang out with those people. People who five, six months ago would have never crossed paths are meeting and hanging out after.
It's free, but it fills up really quickly, within ten minutes or so. Do you have plans to eventually scale it into something larger?
That's something I've trying to fix, and trying to work on. That's why for May and July we're actually going to expand and be able to double how many people are joining us. It's a great thing that so many people want to come! I check my email myself and every time I see, "Oh, is it closed already? What do I do?" and I try to follow up if we have a drop off. We're also trying to create more events where more people can come, not just dependent on that one event.
Do you have plans to turn it into a different pay model? Or is it always going to be free?
We don't have plans to turn it into a whole entire pay model, because, well this is my personal life: when I first moved to NYC I was broke as hell, and anything free I was there. That's why we have free drinks because I just knew every time I was somewhere that had free drinks I was like, "Yes, thank you, I'm so happy."
So in my dream world, I plan to keep salons free because I want there to be a no fee entry point for Novella. I think that's super important for communities like this, for there to be some way someone can come I even if they can't afford to. There are so many different socioeconomic levels of womanhood, especially when you intersect life situations. People just have different finances and you can't expect everyone to pay, so I'm trying to make sure that there's always one point of entry where you don't have to pay to get involved.
I'm really excited for the future of Novella and hopefully bringing more women into the space. Our main goal is to amplify women's voices, and I hope that will be what we're known for.