Altadena resident Nikki High has taken a plunge into the book publishing world by opening Octavia’s Bookshelf. The store is named after Pasadena native and sci-fi author Octavia E. Butler. The independent bookstore is scheduled to open on Feb. 18 and will mainly feature books geared toward Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC.) It is located at 1361 N. Hill Ave.
High is a newcomer to the book-selling world. In a phone interview, she said that means that she’s currently doing a lot of research and talking to independent bookstore owners to get up to speed.
“I’ve always wanted to own my own bookstore,” she said.
High said that although Octavia’s Bookshelf will sell all kinds of books, its focus is on BIPOC authors. She decided to focus on these writers because large chain stores often ignore them. Also, she said she enjoys reading about characters who she can identify with.
Some of her favorite authors are Toni Morrison, Elizabeth Acevedo, Zora Neale Hurston and Roxane Gay. She’s also a big fan of Butler, who developed a reputation as one of the first Black female sci-fi authors.
Butler is the author of books such as “Kindred,” and “The Parable of the Sower.”
High said Butler has a reputation for being prophetic in her books. Many of her books tackle issues we are dealing with today. “The Parable of the Sower” predicted that in 2024, society would deal with environmental collapse, social inequality, and corporate greed, which is fairly accurate.
There is currently a boom in Black authors writing in the sci-fi and horror genres. This has created a new genre called horror noire. In this genre, African-American authors and directors tackle social issues through the lens of horror. A great example of this is the HBO show “Lovecraft Country,” in which the heroes battle monsters, witches, and wizards and have to contend with other social problems such as racism.
High is also open to promoting independent authors. These are authors who have not gone the traditional route and don’t use a publisher. Instead, many of these authors self-publish books and sell them through platforms such as Amazon. Some of these authors, such as Andy Weir, author of “The Martian,” first published as a serialized book on his website, become so popular they later get book deals and even movie deals.
High also plans to work with the community in her new venture. She is in discussions with a local elementary teacher to have a children’s book hour at Octavia’s Bookshelf.
Although High is a book lover, she currently has had little time to read for pleasure because of all the planning going into opening the store.
She’s currently reading “Bitter,” a book by Ezeliora Ndidiamaka. The book is about a young girl who is living in a compound full of creative people. Outside the compound are sounds of massive protests. The protagonist of the book has to decide if she’s going to join the protest or stay within the community.
“It’s a very special book,” she said.