“It’s about the history of us.” In an interview, K Bailey Obazee describes a core principle of PRIM, the platform she founded to archive and amplify inclusive Black storytelling. As a queer Black British woman and multi-faceted creative, K was dissatisfied with only having limited access to narratives she could relate to and says: “If you were to go to any publisher or bookseller like Penguin, Foyles or Waterstones, most people you’re presented with aren’t of Black ancestry and then when it comes to Black History Month they’ll pull out ‘all’ the Black authors… every year I felt like I was being fed the same names like James Bladwin, Chimamanda [Ngozi Adichie], Audre Lorde and they’re all really amazing but like, where are all the Black British authors?”
She decided to channel that frustration into action and established OKHA, the queer + Black book club from which PRIM was born. The rapid success of OKHA (which means ‘story’ in K’s native Edo language) brought her to an exciting new chapter of inspiration and an increased sense of community. She fondly recalls an erotic reading circle they hosted in 2019 as one of her highlights so far, saying: “Just being in that space where you’ve got a bunch of queer people engaging over erotic stories was quite powerful. I think there’s this element of queerness where you don’t necessarily speak as openly about the sexual side of it or the romantic side of it and the things that turn you on, so we were really just normalising it because it exists for the heteros [laughs]… It was such an amazing space and having so many people involved in that and having them take so much from it and feel so good about reading something erotic, and feeling comfortable doing it! it was really important.” She adds.
Moments like that helped K realise that the types of stories we’re exposed to are almost as important as where those stories come from, so with PRIM she aims to celebrate storytelling in a variety of mediums from all intersections of Black identity. She says PRIM’s mission is that of “sharing, educating and connecting us to the myriad of ways Black people tell stories.” The platform launched in February this year and plans to launch a subscription model and add audio and visual libraries to its burgeoning fleet of literary content are already well underway.
Things are building steadily but K isn’t in any rush as she’s more focused on building something with integrity and longevity: “Ultimately, I see it becoming a resource for people to really discover what exists in terms of Black storytelling. I want it to be something that people can make significant revenue from, you know all our contributors, every single person got paid and that’s what I want us to keep being able to do. In the same way that people can become rich off Youtube like hopefully PRIM can be that.” She says.
As well as potentially providing an audience and sustainable income to Black creatives globally, the platform serves as a huge source of inspiration and validation. “We can’t expect white people to make us front and center, we have to do that for ourselves…there’s so much that [white literary and creative institutions] miss because they don’t have or understand the culture and of course they don’t have the same access to the culture that we do.” K says, explaining why it’s impossible to imitate the magic that occurs when Black folk engage with and learn from the works of their contemporaries. She ruminates on all the art that may have gone unpublished and unseen because a white person couldn’t appreciate a certain Black perspective and says “I just think it’s important to create a spaces that center ourselves and our stories and we can make it so that we lead that , yes we can collaborate with other institutions but actually it comes from us.”
Despite the insecurity across the arts sector over the last eighteen months, K is grateful that the shift towards online content during lockdowns has meant good things for her projects. The final portion of the PRIM website is set to launch in the next couple of months and the platform has secured funding from the Arts Council. Pandemic-permitting, K hopes to host a pop-up bookshop towards the end of the year, where “people can come and engage with all kinds of activities, buy books and borrow books through a library system.” For the time being, you can keep up with OKHA and PRIM on Instagram @PRIM.BLACK and the many things that K does (including her lit DJ sets) @Drybabe on Instagram and @Drybabes on Twitter.