When avid reader and Pasadena resident Nikki High couldn’t find any local bookstores that prioritized Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) writers, she set out to do something about it. In February 2023, she opened Octavia’s Bookshelf (octaviasbookshelf.com), Pasadena’s first independent bookstore that exclusively highlights BIPOC authors, including the shop’s namesake, Pasadena native and science-fiction writer Octavia Butler. With no outside investor support, High looked to crowdfunding site GoFundMe for assistance. The BIPOC concept resonated with allies and the literary community and helped her raise over $20,000. Located on North Hill Avenue, Octavia’s Bookshelf’s works run the gamut—from graphic novels, children’s literature, and cookbooks to historical, cultural, and art books.
What made you decide on Pasadena as the bookstore’s location?
I’ve lived in Pasadena for 45 years. Growing up in Pasadena, I had so much support. There were programs for kids like me and a sense of community and pride. I knew when I opened my bookstore, I wanted to honor that. I want people to come in here and feel safe and supported.
How do you feel Pasadena influences you creatively and emotionally?
There’s so much geographic beauty to absorb here, which keeps my creative juices flowing. When I’m in the bookstore working, I have people dropping off food, asking if there’s something they can do to help, and introducing me to people they think I should know. The community rooting for me in such a way reaffirms that this was the right location.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a Black woman in your industry?
Walking and living in this body in America is a challenge every day. I’m sort of muddling through this process without a ton of examples around me, but I’ve been able to curate a group of supportive people, friends and family, who keep me encouraged. When I was searching for a brick-and-mortar location, there was a building site I was interested in—I didn’t say I was prioritizing BIPOC writers—and the property manager said, “A bookstore is exactly what we need.” So, I went to the space and, once he saw me, he said, “I don’t think this is going to be a good space for you.” It’s sometimes difficult to pick myself back up from that because then I was like “Who’s going to lease a space to me?”
Where would you like to be five years from now?
I feel like Octavia’s Bookshelf will be in multiple locations, throughout Pasadena and surrounding areas. I’m also thinking of writing a children’s book myself.
What advice would you give to young women?
I want them to know there are support systems out there—you just have to find them. You can find them in your neighborhood, in your family, in my bookstore. I think that women, and particularly Black women, need to stand in their own power. That doesn’t happen overnight, and you definitely stumble, but you just have to keep getting back up.