As a young girl, Isis Asare never shied away from making reading recommendations to her younger sister or neighborhood friends through a self-started book club. Her passion for sharing literature continues today through Sistah Scifi. The online bookstore is self-described as a “cauldron of all things afro-futuristism casting spells to uplift literature written by Black women.”
Asare remembers stacks of books throughout her childhood home and trips to bookstores and festivals with book vendors. Reading was not just for entertainment or escape; it also raised cultural and political awareness. When Asare read her first sci-fi book as a young adult, Octavia Butler’s Fledgling, she fell in love with the genre.
“I think being Black, a woman, a child of immigrants, naturally very shy and introverted, it’s tough to navigate all those things,” Asare reflects. “Science fiction gives you the space to think you can be a superhero. You can save the universe. There are no limits in the genre, and that’s powerful when it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless in everyday life.”
Beginning of Sistah Scifi
After graduating high school, Asare earned a degree in psychology from Stanford University. She then lived in Ghana, where her parents are from, as part of the Peace Corps. Her subsequent life chapters were filled with graduate degrees from Columbia Business School and Harvard University, a career in tech at companies such as Microsoft, Shutterfly, and Brightroll, and starting a film entertainment site for queer women of color named Sistah Sinema. Yet, in the back of her mind, a deep desire existed to run a bookstore one day. Could she marry the dream and the work experience? A chance encounter on social media answered the question.
“I had just finished reading Lilith’s Brood (also 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 afro-futuristism. 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 and yet still missed a memo. And so, I wanted to read ALL the books and connect with people to discuss the stories. So Sistah Scifi began as a book club and then emerged as an online bookstore. The journey just unfolded, and I chose to follow the path.”
Make, Create, Have Fun
Regarding the benefits of entrepreneurship, Asare is grateful for being part of strong, supportive communities. In her experience, she’s seen women are often drawn to helping each other. Additionally, Asare appreciates the room to make, create, and have fun with her business, which are opportunities that can be harder to find in more traditional work settings. Most importantly, Asare now feels she’s 100 percent herself every day at work.
“In my corporate career, I often felt like I had to leave several parts of myself at home when I swiped my badge on weekdays,” she remembers. “At Sistah Scifi, I can be fully me. There is no scaling authenticity. We know our target demographic, the community we serve. A lot of our audience has been reading comic books and sci-fi all their lives. They know these backstories and alternative universes and are just as passionate about all of it as I am.”
On advising young writers, Asare says it’s important they remember their first draft will likely be “trash” and not to feel bad about rewriting, editing, and rewriting again to make their work better. She also stresses not being afraid to share writings with family, friends, and community. Not every person will love the story, but it is powerful to give oneself a space to create and share it. The key is to not become disgruntled by one or two no’s in your face. Those rejections should not be the end of a dream.
Future plans for Sistah Scifi include an afro-futuristism trip to Ghana, continual expansion of its offerings, and nourishment, plus growth, of its online community spaces. For Asare, success is reaching more people who connect with her business’s purpose. She also imagines automated vending kiosks at coffee shops where customers can access Sistah Scifi products.
“There’s something extraordinary not only about what people receive when they read but also about what they can give back by participating in enthusiastic discussions,” Asare says. “Buying fantastic literature and talking about it brings people together, and that’s especially important in times where we can feel very much apart from one another. Often, when people find the Sistah Sci-Fi on social media or find out that this is our work, they feel completely seen. And that means I’m doing my job right.”
Three Isis Asare Book Recommendations
Written by Erin Prather Stafford
Images provided by Asare