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Discovering New Worlds: Exploring Literature through OCTAVIA’S BOOKSHELF and THE MISSING AMERICAN

Updated: Dec 17, 2023

Octavia's Bookshelf: A Tribute to Diversity and Literary Legacy

The entrance of Octavia's Bookshelf, a bookstore featuring a large window decal of the store's name in bold, elegant typography. The black font contrasts with the glass, creating a prominent and welcoming display. Inside, the warm and inviting ambiance is hinted at by the presence of a potted plant, adding a touch of greenery next to the door. Patrons can be partially seen in the background, indicating the store's active environment where book lovers gather
The Entrance to Octavia’s Bookshelf (Image:

Homage to a great novelist

In the vibrant heart of Pasadena, a new literary beacon has emerged: OCTAVIA'S BOOKSHELF, a black-owned independent bookstore founded by Nikki High. This store is not just a place for books; it's a cultural epicenter celebrating diversity and the rich tapestry of stories from various communities. The legacy of the late Octavia Butler, a distinguished Black science-fiction writer and Pasadena native, inspired High's journey to establish this bookstore. Butler's profound connection to Pasadena, reflected in her novels rich with local descriptions, resonates deeply with High's mission to offer a diverse and inclusive range of literature.

A new, vital role

Octavia's Bookshelf stands as a new, pivotal cultural institution, especially after the closure of the iconic Black-owned bookstore Eso Won in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. High, who had a 15-year tenure in the marketing department at Trader Joe's, leveraged her extensive experience and passion for books to create a space that is both a bookstore and a community hub. The store's focus on books by Black, Latino, Indigenous writers, and other authors of color is a direct homage to Butler's vision of a diverse and inclusive literary world.

A journey of resilience

Personal challenges, moments of doubt, and a firm belief in the power of community and literature marked Nikki High's path to opening Octavia's Bookshelf. Despite facing skepticism and discrimination in her quest to find the perfect location, High's resilience and dedication led to overwhelming support from friends, family, and the online community. Her successful GoFundMe campaign and the anticipation of authors and readers underscore the community's desire for such a literary space. The Guardian quotes High: “I had been thinking about [this bookstore] for about 10 years, but not in a way where I was ready to leave my job and do it."

THE MISSING AMERICAN: A Novel in Harmony with Octavia's Ethos

THE MISSING AMERICAN, by Kwei Quartey, aligns with the ethos of Octavia's Bookshelf. Set against the backdrop of Ghana's capital, Accra, the novel introduces us to Emma Djan, a young private investigator embroiled in the world of email scams and fetish priests. The story unfolds as a lonely widower from Washington, D.C., becomes entangled in a trans-Atlantic love scam. This narrative delves into the complexities of modern relationships and the dark underbelly of internet fraud.

Quartey’s novel, an NPR Favorite Book of 2020 and a 2021 Edgar Award Nominee, is a testament to diverse storytelling and global narratives. THE MISSING AMERICAN offers readers a window into different cultures and experiences, enriching the literary landscape with its intricate plot and vivid characters. The novel adds to the diversity of Octavia's Bookshelf’s collection and embodies the spirit of exploration and understanding that the bookstore advocates.

The significance of Octavia's Bookshelf in today's literary landscape

The opening of the bookstore in Pasadena was more than just the launch of a new bookstore; it was a significant event in the literary world in promoting diversity in literature. The store stands as a testament to the changing dynamics of the book industry, where there is an increasing demand for stories that reflect the experiences of a broader range of communities. This shift is about the types of books available and who is curating and selling these books. As a black female-owned bookstore, Octavia's Bookshelf is a powerful statement in an industry that a limited perspective has long dominated.

High's dedication to featuring a diverse range of authors and stories directly responds to the lack of representation she observed growing up. This representation is about the authors and the characters and narratives within the books. Octavia's Bookshelf is filling a crucial gap in the literary landscape by offering a space where readers of all backgrounds can find stories that resonate with them.

A rich future of diverse stories

By including books like THE MISSING AMERICAN in its collection, Octavia's Bookshelf exemplifies a commitment to diversity in literature. As readers, we are invited to explore new worlds, understand different experiences, and appreciate the richness of literary culture.

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