Tastemaker Obi Nwazota’s new children’s book is leading the way in representation.
A portrait of Igbo heroine Nkemdiche replete with a finely plated beard draws eyes to the cover of Obi Nwazota’s work Nkemdiche: Why We Do Not Grow Beards. As the first children’s book published by Okpara House (okparahouse.com)—a new creative content hub inspired by Igbo culture and knowledge assets—it tells a classic Igbo folklore tale that takes place in an otherworldly time when women grew beards.

An abundance of illustrations help to tell the story PHOTO COURTESY OF OKPARA HOUSE
An abundance of illustrations help to tell the story.

It is a genesis story of African women and their knack for elaborate hairdos for which they are admired and loved today. “The book was inspired by the lack of representation at a world-class level for visual stories that normalize our existence and intellect,” says Nwazota. “This book is important simply because it is a window rarely opened, and as such gives an insight into the treasures that belong to us all as humanity.”

Nwazota and his family. PHOTO COURTESY OF OKPARA HOUSE
Nwazota and his family

Nwazota, who was born in Nigeria, has been a longtime resident of Chicago since coming to America in 1986 to study at the University of Illinois School of Architecture. He quickly became a celebrated tastemaker creating memorable projects around Chicago, and is the owner of modern and contemporary furniture meccas Orange Skin (orangeskin.com) and Minotti Chicago monobrand showroom (minottichicago.com). In 2016, he dabbled in the restaurant industry and opened Little Unicoco, which dished out traditional Nigerian cuisine until it closed its doors in 2017.

The cover

Now, he continues to spread his Igbo roots through literature. “[Nkemdiche: Why We Do Not Grow Beards] uses a simple story to explore complex cultural assets of the Igbo peoples. Beyond the story is the important matter regarding the control of our images as Black Africans,” Nwazota explains. “One of the biggest lessons set here is the importance of owning our narrative.”