An Ain’t I A Woman Collective series to highlight the stories of different black women around the world. This week, our spotlight is on Damilola Odelola, a poet and programmer who “learnt to write when she was 3-years old” and hasn’t stopped since. Damilola fell in love with coding by accident and has been on a quest to learn and teach as much as possible. She is the founder of blackgirl.tech, a platform that aims to provide a safe space for girls and women of colour to learn more about tech and how to code.
Who is Damilola Odelola? What would you like our followers to know about you, your work, your motivations, and your interests?
That’s a good question, I’m still trying to figure that out, ha.
Professionally, I’m a poet who is trying to move into short story writing, and a developer. Generally, I’m a 23 year old Nigerian woman who loves moi-moi and cake, and also practices Christianity and womanism. My hobbies include eating cake (obviously), netflix and chilling by myself – despite my mother’s, and I’m sure, grandmother’s, prayers for me to find a man – and reading. My faith and belief in womanism are intrinsically linked and motivate all I do, from my writing to my work in tech; it’s all built on a foundation of love, the most basic love that we should have for our fellow human.
I’m interested in so many things, but recently, I’ve been obsessed with multifacetedness of human nature and how we view that. So, for example, MLK Jr was a great leader, but he was also a serial adulterer; bell hooks is an amazing writer and feminist thinker, but she also slut-shames; David (from the Bible) was a great king but also a murderer. Representation is a consistent theme in my work and, really, it comes down to being allowed to be multi-faceted or not — black people are typically not allowed to be multi-faceted, even though it’s human nature.
We know that you are a creative writer as well as a web developer. How do you combine these two seemingly different talents/skills in your daily life? Do you think they feed into each other?
When I first got into coding, I had all these cool ideas of mixing my writing and development, and creating really cool artistic web stuff that people would look at and be amazed by, but I no longer have that desire. Writing and coding are similar for me in that they force me to face myself. All the things I thought I knew are thrown into the air and hang above giant question marks, they both make me realise that I actually don’t know that much. But they occupy two very separate spaces of me and don’t really feed into each other. They feed into each other occasionally if I’m editing posts for BGT or doing something for myself, but at work they’re kept very distant, and I like it that way.
Saying that though, my first pamphlet #000000, was kind of marrying my development skills and my creative writing. I learnt about e-books and made one by myself about black identity (which is really what most of my writing is about). The title is a reference to the hex code for the blackest black you can find in the digital realm, and it’s only available as an e-book. This wasn’t intentional, and a lot of the writing decisions I make aren’t, but it ended up being kind of symbolic of how black identity has flourished so much in the digital sphere, we have carved out spaces for ourselves, where we can be. Interestingly, in Lost and Found, I title each poem with a hashtag, which a reviewer thought that was a nod to twitter. It wasn’t, I just really like hashtags.
You’ve had two books published – the first one was self-published, and the second was published by Eyewear Poetry. Tell us about those experiences. What was it like to go from self-publishing to what some might consider to be a more legitimate form of publishing? What are your thoughts on that?
When I tell people I’m published, my first thought is Lost & Found, the book I did with Eyewear. I have to remind myself to mention #000000, which I did alone. I’m still learning to look at self-publishing as real. The very first pamphlet I ever produced was a homemade thing that I sold through Facebook, this was years ago, and I remember sitting in a Barbican Young Poets workshop, introducing myself saying “I have a book of poetry out but it’s not published by a proper publishing house, I did it myself,” and Jacob Sam La-Rose, who’s the facilitator, said words to the effect of: “Of course it’s proper, you created it and now you sell it.” And that has always stuck with me. The internet and technology have made it possible for people not to have to rely on traditional mode(l)s of doing things, people can do whatever they want as long as they have the tools to, the issue is: not everybody has the tools. I got published by Eyewear because Todd Swift was my lecturer, I wrote my final creative piece based on Langston Hughes’ Montage of a Dream Deferred and he really enjoyed it and told me to contact him after graduation. Publishing can be very elitist and is really about who you know, so I was blessed in that my lecturer had his own small press, and small presses are very valuable, especially for new or alternative writers. I’m reluctant to encourage everyone to self-publish because I don’t think that all writing is good writing; however, I do think that today, it’s very legitimate, especially when you see some of the figures some of these self-published Amazon best sellers are raking in.
This month’s theme focuses on Black women within tech and those who are into science fiction. What do you think is most important in portraying and representing Black women in these particular spaces?
So, I’m a late bloomer and also a bit of a purist, I didn’t get into tech until after I graduated from university and I still don’t read genre fiction. However – and this is a big however – I do read comic books, and I’ve read comics on and off since I was a little girl but more so in the year gone past. When you look at representation in general media, no matter the genre or outlet, black women occupy the same or similar roles, we aren’t allowed nuance or distinction or complexity. There have been aliens and beasts who have been given more complex characters than black women, and being cornered in this way sends a message to black girls and women that they are only these things. However, there are great initiatives to fill this void in representation, from books, like Sean Reed’s Serena Sees Her Footprints on the Moon, to projects like Black Girls Code, Black Girl Nerds, and a host of others, and I think these things are very important. They say to black girls that it’s okay to be interested in physics and computers and comic books and aliens, etc. There are a few comics at the moment, that I’m following, that have black protagonists, but they’re mostly male, so although there is a race issue, there is also definitely a race AND gender issue when it comes to representation.
You run blackgirl.tech (BGT), an organisation that essentially has the above at its core. Tell us a little more about BGT, especially your long term vision for it.
Blackgirl.tech was started in 2014 as an avenue to provide tutorials and workshops for black girls and women interested in tech. It’s moved away from that, slightly, and is more about community and creating safe spaces for black girls and women to explore. I don’t believe everyone should be a developer, but I do believe everyone should be given the opportunity to decide if they want to be a developer or not. I was never really given that opportunity, coding was never, ever, something I thought I could do. This year, our main focus is on building that community, which includes organising our first meet-up, the podcast, writing articles for the site, and #BGTRL (blackgirl.tech resource list). #BGTRL is probably what I’m most proud of so far, even though it’s only two weeks old and hasn’t gotten a lot of traction yet. I’m still developing it, but the idea is that I, & anyone who wants to, share resources – reading material, podcasts, videos – that people can learn from on a variety of tech topics. I’m proud of it because, really, this is the kind of stuff blackgirl.tech is about – fostering learning and sharing. I’m a big believer in the sharing culture: you teach me, I teach you, and we both grow. As I said, I’m developing it at the moment and it’ll soon be more than a hashtag on twitter (no shade to twitter).
Which Black woman in tech do you think we should celebrate in this issue?
Two spring to mind. The first is Ekpemi Anni. I interviewed her for this month’s podcast and she’s really doing some great things. She’s a UX/UI consultant and is a real supporter of women in technology, and she has started various platforms and organisations, one being Platforms for Women which curates different organisations and platforms for women in tech.
The second is Natalie Nzeyimana – she’s started her own digital studio and provides consulting for brands and companies. She’s also started Nuanced Dinners, which is a networking event for people in the tech industry to eat, socialise, and talk about relevant topics. Both of these women are so supportive of others in the industry, which is important in an industry that can be quite isolating for black women, and I think that’s very admirable.
Where can our followers find your work?
Blackgirl.tech–related stuff can be found primarily on twitter @blackgirltech, but you can also checkout our site blackgirl.tech, our Soundcloud, and also find us on Meetup to stay updated with our meet-ups.
I can be found on twitter @lolaodelola, my site damilolaodelola.com, which I try to keep up to date but often fail to. I recently started posting poems on Medium so you can read them there too @lolaodelola.
#000000 is available on amazon and Lost and Found is available on Eyewear’s store, both reachable through my site.
We are grateful to ‘Lola Odelola for taking the time to respond to our questions. Please follow her on social media and reach out to her directly for any inquiries. We hope to work with her in some capacity in the future.
Tags: black women in tech, creativity, damilola odelola, poetry, spotlight
To celebrate Black women in Tech, we have an ongoing…
An Ain’t I A Woman Collective series to highlight the…
In part two this interview our events coordinator Prisca Vungbo speaks with…
Your email address will not be published.