If you’re sitting in Oaklandia Cafe x Bakery, you can watch as people see a new book vending machine and approach it with curiosity. Some even take pictures of the machine. The Sistah Scifi Afrofuturism book vending machine draws attention. The vending machine was unveiled at Oaklandia on Saturday, February 3 with a crowd of science fiction fans, some of whom were dressed in Afrofuturistic cosplay.
Oaklandia originally opened in 2019 on 30th Street. Oaklandia Cafe x Bakery opened up shop in 2022 in the heart of downtown Oakland, selling coffee drinks, pastries, and sandwiches.
Oaklandia owner Latorra Monk said that when Isis Asare, founder of Sistah Scifi, approached her to add a vending machine inside her cafe, it was in alignment with her vision. “I’ve always wanted to have something that was a draw that it’s different, that is offering a different perspective,” Monk told Oakland Voices.
Combining their forces, the two Black women-centric businesses are able to fulfill a mutual vision in providing the physical space to sell books and support community engagement.
“I like to think that Sistah Scifii is pulling together an international community of people who are really excited about the intersection of science fiction, fantasy and Black and Indigenous culture,” Sister Scifi founder Isis Asare said.
Sistah Scifi started in 2019 when Asare was living in Seattle and is currently based in Oakland. Sistah Scifi is one of the first Black-owned bookstores focused specifically on selling science fiction and fantasy by Black and Indigenous authors, though Asare adds that they see Sistah Scifi as a sci-fi technology company that is focusing on selling books right now.
Asare explains that Sistah Scifi started as a book club but quickly shifted to a bookstore, selling books online and at in-person events. As Sister Scifi gained followers on social media, the bookstore grew an online following of sci-fi book lovers, largely because it highlights creative works of Black and Indigenous writers.
“Our intention, our vision right now is to double the number of Black and Indigenous sci-fi authors on the New York Times bestsellers in the next 10 years,” Asare told Oakland Voices in an interview after the Oaklandia Cafe’s vending machine was unveiled.
The idea for the vending machine came while selling books at in-person events and online. Asare believed coffee shops would be a great place for book sales but understood that selling books might add a burden for shop owners and clerks. “I don’t want the coffee shop owner to have to stop making coffee or serving customers or running the coffee shop to then sell a book,” Asare said.
The vending machine also answers the question regarding a brick-and-mortar location for Sistah Scifi’s bookstore. “You can look at the books and then, you can stay, have coffee and do your book club,” Asare added.
Hosting the launch at Oaklandia also fulfills the mission of Sistah Scifi as a business to support and work with other Black owned businesses. “Having the book vending machine in a Black owned coffee shop allows me to promote the books and also promote the coffee shop.”
The first book purchased during the launch from the vending machine was To Boldy Go: How Nichelle Nichols and Star Trek Helped Advance Civil Rights by Angela Dalton, an author who was in attendance at the vending machine on Saturday. Asare says there’s also a signed copy of singer Janelle Monáe’s The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer. in the vending machine. The selection of books in the vending machine are carefully curated by Asare, including a coloring book that was something Asare found on Instagram.
Much of science fiction writing supports the LGTBQ+ identities that allow people to explore and experience what’s possible for them, and the vending machine also represents a welcoming of all identities and backgrounds. “Oakland is a city where magic happens,” Asare said. “So I think people get the queerness in the sci-fi and the fantasy.”
Authors who want to have their books in the vending machine can reach out to Sistah Scifii, as long as the subject matter falls in alignment with the scope of the bookstore’s selections. The next Sistah Scifii vending machines are anticipated to launch in Mill Creek and Shoreline in Washington State. The goal is to launch seven more vending machines on the West Coast between Seattle and the Bay Area.
Monk, owner of the cafe and bakery, said part of the goal of being an Oakland small business owner is to help create a community and legacy for marginalized communities. “That’s taking agency and playing a part in business, putting our stamp on it, and creating our communities within the business community,” Monk said.
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Oaklandia Cafe x Bakery caters and hosts events with limited availability for evening events. The cafe is located at 555 12th Street Suite 101 in Oakland, where the Sistah Scifi vending machine is. There is also a location at 371 30th Street, Suite C100, in Oakland that is a retail storefront. Information about Sistah Scifi’s vending machine can be found on its website, Facebook, and Instagram.