As part of its salute to Black-owned businesses during the month of April, the Los Angeles Sentinel spotlights Nikki High, owner of Octavia’s Bookshelf — Pasadena’s first independent bookstore showcasing authors of Black, indigenous, people of color.
We begin with Nikki’s reaction upon hearing she made Pasadena history as the first Black female bookstore owner …
“It’s so strange that in 2023 we’re still the first at something. I’m really proud and happy the bookstore resonates with so many people. I’ve lived in Pasadena for 45 years and I used to travel to Eso Won Books for decades because it was the only one I had access to. I’m thankful to [owner James Fugate] and all their years of service, and the gift that they were to our community.”
. . . And the response from community members.
“The day we opened, I got to the store early. People were wrapped around the block waiting to get in! I just burst into tears. I later understood that they came up from San Diego, Long Beach, and L.A., and down from Santa Clarita. The line was two-and-a-half hours long! I sold nearly every book by that following Sunday.”
To help launch her business, Nikki started a GoFundMe page that generated nearly five million views and 10,000 retweets.
“I didn’t want to take out any loans, nor have any investors. I told my husband I needed to dip into our savings. He cringed, but consented. I started the GoFundMe to help offset those costs. We raised about $22,000. Our donors felt a sense of community and ownership, and that’s exactly what I wanted to create.”
“It’s about big ideas in fantasy and sci-fi. As the only Black person invited to sit on the panel, I felt that it was important to make clear that [science fiction writer] Octavia Butler laid a lot of that groundwork in the early 60’s. And her writing gave space for authors like N.K. Jemisin, a Black woman who writes amazing sci-fi fantasy, and others.”
BIPOC (bī-päk) stands for Black, indigenous, and people of color.
“It separates Black from ‘people of color’ because adjacency to Whiteness is something that Black people don’t have, but others do. We need to be connected, so it’s important for me to not only showcase Black authors, but also indigenous authors and people of color who are writing fantastic stories.”
In 1995, Octavia Butler became the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. Nikki spoke fondly of Pasadena’s native daughter.
“She lived on the northwest side of town, which is where I was raised. When I was 16, I read ‘Kindred’ for the first time. It’s sci-fi, time travel and fantasy that includes people who look like me! I also read ‘Parable of The Sower,’ one woman’s desperate journey towards a better future in a world gone insane. When I opened my store, I wanted to honor the legacy of her life.”
So, what can visitors expect to see and do at Octavia’s Bookshelf?
“You can find books across all genres, including sci-fi, poetry, short stories, fantasy, and a healthy rotation of new authors as well as old favorites. You’ll also get to talk to booksellers who are true readers themselves. They can recommend titles for adults, teens and children!”
Octavia’s Bookshelf is located at 1361 N Hill Ave in the East Washington Village neighborhood of Pasadena. For more information, visit https://bit.ly/434ChUh.