PRIM and Burberry are celebrating the power of reading

Photography: Bernice Mulenga

Black storytelling platform PRIM linked up with Burberry last week for a pop-up bookshop-cum-creative exchange featuring new film Power In Reading. We spoke to PRIM founder K Bailey Obazee to learn more.

Black history month is every month for us,” PRIM Founder K Bailey Obazee tells THE FACE. Three years ago, PRIM was started to provide a space to engage with Black queer stories. Bailey Obazee’s dream? To create an unintimidating space that valued narratives from her community and enabled people to come together and spark conversation.

Past PRIM events have provided space for joy, healing, and reflection through titles like A Blood Condition by Kayo Chingonyi, HOLD by Michael Donkor, and Natalie Lee’s Feeling Myself. Often the themes in the book spark conversation,” she explains.

Whether it’s stories that centre around love, familial relationships or navigating the trials and tribulations of friendships, there’s always a way to get people to reflect on parallels within their own lives, especially when it’s interwoven with specific cultural themes. Once, I shared what it was like going home to Nigeria for the first time fully in my queerness,” she says. It was good for us to think about how we navigate those spaces. Questioning where really feels like home.”

When THE FACE first caught up with Bailey Obazee she was darting around London on essential errands, making eleventh-hour preparations for a Black History Month bookshop-slash-creative-hub sponsored by Burberry. Located in North Greenwich’s Design District last week from 13th to 16th October, it saw PRIM’s vision scaled-up to its largest dimension yet. Works were exhibited from the likes of photographer and filmmaker Cameron Ugbodu, plus there was a panel talk about art hosted by Zezi Ifore, voguing from the House of Bodega, live readings and – for a final chapter – a basketball tournament.

Front and centre was a new film co-authored by PRIM and Burberry. Titled Power In Reading, it’s an ode to the epic escapism books hold within their hallowed pages; what’s better than falling into a trance while face-first in fiction, eh? Starring author Liv Little, BAFTA award-winning actor and director Adjani Salmon and fashion designer Yodea Marquel Williams in Burberry, it centres on Bernadine Evaristo’s book Mr. Loverman. Featuring read-in-your-head narration from PRIM’s members to lift you into their inner monologues, it sees the platform’s book club meet up at the end for a collective reading.

For Bailey Obazee, the partnership is a love letter to PRIM’s burgeoning network of followers. I just want us to create memories with our community and have these moments that we can hold for our entire lives,” she says. We asked her a few more questions about safe spaces, inspirational stories and how PRIM is crucial to supporting the community.

How important are spaces for learning and honest conversation for social change?
They’re instrumental. Having the room to discuss, to consider, to essentially work through your thoughts with people and hear what they have to say about certain topics allows you to learn from your peers. There have been Black and Brown book clubs which, back in the day, allowed us to learn about the difficulties we were facing and that can manifest into social action and allow us to create a more equitable society. It’s also good to question yourself: what do I as Black queer person need to do better, what pockets of the community do I need to understand?

What narratives made you feel seen growing up?
Nollywood made me feel seen. Like Nollywood, I am funny and out there, I feel like I can be anything and do anything. Books that resonated with me when I was younger were To Kill a Mockingbird, which got me thinking about the nuances that existed within race, and Atonement [which] was about how much your actions can impact other people and that impacted how I wanted to be.


Who are storytellers that are capturing the Black queer experience right now?
Yrsa Daley Ward, Liv Little, and artists like Campbell Addy and Ib Kamara – there are just so many.

What do you think about Black History Month? Is it important to you and how does this time of year feel for you all as a collective?
I’m so consumed, being Black, in Black experiences, in working with people, especially not just in the UK, but everywhere, that to me it just feels like an opportunity to extend that reach and to be a little bit louder. I just want to get involved and engaged in more things, you know – we’ve got Black Tech Week, which is happening right now, there’s scores of exhibitions and people releasing books, clothing lines, the list is really endless.

I think that’s just really great to me, to sort of consciously focus on working with and supporting a variety of groups and individuals. I think we’re starting to lose a little bit of that tokenism that was seen for many years … [where we’d] see publishing houses just kind of release the same authors every year, as part of their Black History Month work – that’s boring. You’re not even really giving. What about the rest? So Black History for me is building the things that you see are missing.

What are the highlights and challenges of creating your own community space like this?
It’s been great to connect and partner with some incredible organisations and brands, and more than anything, being able to platform and create streams of revenue for our community. That’s the whole point. The challenge is sometimes just finding other people who understand what you’re trying to create and why. We want to build in a way that’s sustainable for us and people who want to engage with PRIM. So we’ve wanted things to be free as much as possible, because we don’t want leisure and buying books to be [seen as] a luxury in the cost of living.

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