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A Cauldron Of Black and Indigenous Literature

Sistah Scifi Launches Book Vending Machines Throughout the Nation

Isis Asare, founder of Sistah Scifi
Isis Asare, founder of Sistah Scifi

Sistah Scifi is the first Black-owned bookstore focused on science fiction and fantasy in the United States, as validated by the American Booksellers Association.

“This store began as a book club and then emerged as an online bookstore,” says founder Isis Asare. “The journey just unfolded, and I chose to follow the path.” 
Asare officially launched Sistah Scifi on February 2, 2019, with a celebration of Jewelle Gomez’s 25th Anniversary edition of The Gilda Stories. The venture describes itself as a cauldron of all things Afrofuturism; Black mysticism, science fiction noir, and traditional voodoo; casting spells to uplift literature written by Black women.

They also focus on the works of Indigenous women authors, such as Rebecca Roanhorse, Grace Dillon, Eden Robinson, Darcie Little Badger, Cherie Dimaline, and Louise Erdrich. These women’s names feature on a tee shirt proudly sold by Sistah Scifi

“With this shirt, we not only celebrate Indigenous female writers who create a future where all of us are included but also celebrate ourselves as readers would instantly recognize the names on the list and what they mean,” says Asare. 

Sistah Scifi is also excited to sell a similar tee featuring Black women writers Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, Nisi Shawl, Nnedi Okorafor, Tomi Adeyemi, and Nalo Hopkinson. 

The bookstore has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Buzzfeed, and the New York Times. In 2023, Sistah Scifi will launch a national network of Sistah Scifi Book Vending Machines, the first three in February and at least 10 by June. All Book Vending Machines will be located in Black and Native American owned coffee shops. 

The first three locations will be Oaklandia Café x Bakery, Mixed: Coffee and Community, and Black Coffee NW. 

The goal for the Sistah Scifi Book Vending Machine is a national rollout because Sistah Scifi is connected to a national and international community due to the power of social media. 

“As a bookstore in cyberspace, why would I limit myself to a particular geographic location within the United States?” says Asare. 

woman reading a book at sunset

Marrying Work and the Dream

With degrees in psychology and African American studies from Stanford University, Asare lived in her parents’ home country of Ghana for a while as part of the Peace Corps. Next, she earned a master’s in public policy from Harvard and an MBA in International Finance from Columbia Business School. 

A serial cultural entrepreneur, she worked in finance and business development at corporations including T-Mobile, Microsoft, Shutterfly, and Brightroll and launched a film entertainment site for queer women of color called Sistah Sinema. Still, through all of these ventures, she realized she had a deep desire to run a bookstore. 

“Could I marry the dream and the work experience? A chance encounter on social media answered my question,” Asare says. 

Woman with Afro hair wearing a t-shirt with print "Sistah from another Planet"

Afrofuturism and Self-Definition

“I had just finished reading Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler, loved it, and asked on Facebook if anyone was interested in discussing it with me,” Asare remembers. 

“A good friend agreed to talk about it, and then we started talking about other authors in Afrofuturism. Authors I’d never heard of, which completely caught me off guard. All I could think was I’d taken African American literature in college yet still missed a memo. And so, I wanted to read ALL the books and connect with people to discuss the stories,” she says. 

The Smithsonian explains Afrofuturism as “an evolving concept expressed through a Black cultural lens that reimagines, reinterprets, and reclaims the past and present for a more empowering and inclusive tomorrow.” Popular Afrofuturist authors include Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin, Tomi Adeyemi, and Colson Whitehead. 

Sistah Scifi gives shout-outs to a wide variety of new books from Afrofuturists and other BIPOC sci-fi and fantasy authors through its social media. These include Veronica G. Henry’s Depression-era carnival fantasy Bacchanal, Liselle Sambury’s complex horror tale Delicious Monsters, and Kosoko Jackson’s suspense novel Survive the Dome. 

“I know I focus on promoting Black and Indigenous science fiction and fantasy authors because, as a Black, queer woman, I found the themes of science fiction liberating in how I can define myself, especially while navigating a society focused on assimilating and adding value to mainstream—often white—culture,” says Asare.

Woman with spear and tiger

Strength Through Community

Asked if operating a bookstore is tough, Asare answers, “How do you define tough? Is there any industry where success is easy and guaranteed?”

She draws strength from the love and support of her polycule and from the many donors who have contributed to funding Sistah Scifi. 


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