Literary Supper Club with Otegha Uwagba

On the evening of March 8, International Women's Day, best-selling author Otegha Uwagba hosted a literary supper club on the Isla Terrace. Otegha invited along fellow female writers Tolani Shoneye and Harriet Gibsone for conversations and readings of their unshared work, staggered between candlelit dinner courses. 
Why did you decide to host a literary-themed event for International Women's Day this year?

I feel quite conflicted about International Women’s Day these days – the meaning of the day has become quite lost in recent years, and a lot of people seem to be quite fatigued by it. But when The Standard approached me about an IWD event I jumped at the chance, because they’re always such a pleasure to work with, and more importantly, they always give me the space to create events that have real meaning and genuinely connect to culture. I previously hosted a conversational salon at The Standard for IWD in 2020, discussing the state of contemporary feminism – essentially a huge group discussion of about 60 women or so – and it was a huge success. So I wanted to do something similar, putting women’s writing at the centre of an event, and bringing together women from all walks of life who enjoy good writing, good conversation and good food!

Why is it so important to you to celebrate women’s writing?

Because I think women’s writing is often treated in very reductive ways – novels are assumed to be based on personal experiences (which isn’t something that happens to men), and we’re often expected to promote our work in ways that belie the intelligence and craft of the material.

How did you choose the two authors you chose to give readings at this event?

I’ve been a fan of Tolly’s work for years – I’m an avid listener of her smash hit podcast The Receipts, and really appreciate her insights on beauty, love, race, femininity and pretty much anything she chooses to talk about! I bumped into her a few months ago and she mentioned she was working on a novel – so when it came to programming this event, I thought it would be fantastic to get her to read part of her work-in-progress novel to an intimate audience. 

Writing can be such a solitary occupation and you don’t get a lot of positive validation on things as you’re working on them – only once they’re published – and that can be tough! The extract she shared with us was both very entertaining and incredibly moving, and I think we all felt quite special that we’d gotten an exclusive preview.

As for Harriet, I was sent an advance copy of her memoir Is This Ok? which is out in May. It completely blew me away – it’s both laugh-out-loud funny and somewhat heartbreaking, and I saw so much of my own twenties reflected back at me. I knew I had to get her involved in some way.

What, if anything, do you feel like Tolly and Harriet’s work have in common?

I think both of them write in a way that’s very honest – they both really nail that inner monologue most of us have going on, and the slightly cringe-y or needy emotions we all feel, and are happy to share even the unpalatable aspects of themselves. It's very brave to do that and I think that’s why their work connects so much. I also like their insights into the relationships between men and women - I don’t necessarily think women’s writing always has to pass the Bechdel test!

What was your favourite part of the evening?
As much as I loved having Tolly and Harriet read, I have to say that my favourite part of the evening was getting to meet such an interesting and friendly group of women, and being able to chat to some of them over dinner. Quite a few guests came to the event on their own, but it was such a great crowd that we all soon got talking - I think bonding over shared interests (in this case, literature) is a great way to make new friends, and I loved being able to facilitate that. I also had some really lovely messages after the event from guests who’d attended, so it felt like a great example of the power of community. 
And finally, who would be your dream supper club guests?

I’d love to have Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as guests at a future supper club – I’ve always been huge fans of their work, both their fiction and non-fiction. But it could also be cool to get someone quite provocative like Bret Easton Ellis to take part. I plan to turn this supper club into a series so… let’s see!

Otegha Uwagba is a bestselling author and culture journalist who has written three books: Little Black Book: A Toolkit for Working Women, the short essay Whites: On Race And Other Falsehoods, and We Need To Talk About Money. A Forbes 30 Under 30 alumnus, she is also an experienced broadcaster, speaker and events programmer. Between 2016 – 2020 she ran Women Who, a community for creative women she set up with the aim of helping women think, work, and live better.

Tolani Shoneye is a writer, podcaster and presenter. Producer and co-host of the wildly popular and award-winning #TheReceiptsPodcast, she is also the co-author of the Sunday Times bestselling Keep The Receipts. A trusted voice in the media when it comes to dating, love, race, culture and being empowered in your own skin, she has also hosted and produced podcasts for a variety of brands including Bumble, and is currently developing an original scripted show.

Harriet Gibsone is an author and journalist based in London. She began her career as a music journalist in the 00s, writing for publications such as Q, NME, Time Out and Nylon. She was a Guardian Staff writer and editor for eight years and now has a column for the Guardian Weekend magazine. Is This Ok? is her first book, a laugh-out-loud funny, raw, and breathtakingly honest account of a life lived online, published in May 2023.


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