Evening Standard - ES Magazine
She’s the pioneer behind the Burberry-backed book club showcasing queer Black stories. Isobel Van Dyke meets K Bailey Obazee, London’s coolest librarian
Fresh off the Eurostar and into the thick of Paris Fashion Week, K Bailey Obazee is on her way to the Acne Studios spring/summer 2023 show when we speak over the phone. Obazee is possibly London’s coolest librarian. She’s a DJ by night and by day is the founder of Prim (as in ‘prim and proper’), a library and digital platform ‘born out of not seeing enough queer Black stories’.
When Obazee first started attending fashion shows she was working as a writer, filing short pieces for local magazines. Fast forward a few years and global, luxury fashion house Burberry is approaching her to collaborate on projects. ‘At Burberry we believe that creativity opens spaces, which is exactly what Prim is doing with reading — opening up the literature space to make it accessible to all and showing how reading can unlock opportunity,’ the brand told us.
In April 2019 Obazee founded Okha: a queer Black book club, just one of Prim’s many branches of storytelling. Meaning ‘story’ or ‘tale’ in the Edo language of Nigeria, Okha was founded ‘to showcase the breadth of Black British authors, as well as authors from around the world’, says Obazee, who hosts the club on a monthly basis in various locations, from The Standard hotel to Not Just Another Store on Calvert Avenue.
She had briefly considered setting up a club night for queer people of colour, however the community was in dire need of sober spaces where people can learn, teach and explore interests. ‘We are multifaceted beings and we should have access to all of the things that we’re interested in,’ says Obazee. ‘It’s about providing people with options. If we only ever have nightlife to engage in then essentially what’s being said is that we should only be seen in the dark.’
Another reason for starting Okha was Obazee’s frustration with what’s included in the Black canon: ‘Audre Lorde, James Baldwin and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — they’re all amazing but there are so many other authors that we have that we’re not being fed.’ Most recently, Okha’s September book selection was André Leon Talley’s The Chiffon Trenches, a memoir of the late, great, fashion icon. ‘I really wanted to understand who this man was, as such a life force at the top of the fashion industry. It’s also fashion week, and of course André being AfricanAmerican, from the South, he’s got such an interesting story as well as amazing work.’
This week Obazee and Prim are teaming up with Burberry on a pop-up bookstore that will ‘introduce people to a variety of authors across design, art, literature, and have people enjoy books that are only by people of Black ancestry’. More than your average bookstore, it will feature talks, exhibitions, sports tournaments and even a debut film (commissioned by Burberry) featuring galdem founder Liv Little and actor Adjani Salmon. ‘[Burberry] said, “We want you to do a bookstore.” I said, “Right, here’s what we’re gonna do… it’s gonna be a grand affair.”’ Prim opens at London Design District in North Greenwich from 14-16 Oct