How This San Francisco Bookstore Provides Anti-Capitalist Hope
The average San Franciscan, throttled by both an impossible cost of living and a tremendous lack of resources, needs a glimmer of hope in the fog. Look no further than the Mission District’s newest bookstore Medicine for Nightmares, a must-visit for longtime residents and visitors to the city alike. In Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? the author writes “the very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect.” Such is this beacon of art and culture, and possible futures outside of the city’s current woes.
The bookstore is owned by three Bay Area literary titans. There’s Josiah Luis Alderete, a City Lights bookseller and author of the book of poems “Old Pochos y Baby Axolotls.” Tân Khánh Cao, a second third of the ownership, is an interdisciplinary artist with so many publications and installations it makes one’s head spin. J.K. Fowler rounds out the group, well-known in the region’s literary world for his Nomadic Press and its numerous awards, publications, and justice-seeking programs.
The trio took over the former Alley Cat Bookstore when Kate Razo decided to sell the shop in November 2021. The rebrand of the shop is itself a rebuke of the capitalist, racist, sexist structures that founded and still govern the United States. “The store is named for the nightmare we’re living in,” Cao told the San Francisco Standard. “Which is largely controlled by a white power structure.”
Coloniality has no place in the store, whether it be in the books stocked or the artists who work in the space. There are ongoing reading series, including the Chicanx-centered Speaking Axolotl and the monthly !Poetry In The Window! series, showcasing writers in, you guessed it, the window. Traveling international authors and local artists alike — from the city’s poet laureate to aspiring writers — make the bookstore their literary hub. And, they offer a window into what a small business can look like as legitimate praxis; author David Kurbin will come to the shop on March 21 to read about Marxism. “Bookstores aren’t just quiet little places,” Alderete says. “They vitalize and they revitalize.”
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