© 2024 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
COVID-19 fundamentally changed how we work. In our series "At Work," we hear from folks in the Bay Area about how what they do has changed.

Books for all: Medicine for Nightmares opens in the heart of the Mission

Josiah Luis Alderete sits on a couch at the newly opened Medicine for Nightmares bookstore and gallery.
Elizabeth Aranda
Elizabeth Aranda
Josiah Luis Alderete sits on a couch at the newly opened Medicine for Nightmares bookstore and gallery.

You may know Josiah Luis Aldrete as the host of our series Bay Poets. What you may not know is that Josiah opened and runs an independent bookstore in the heart of the Mission District called “Medicine for Nightmares Bookstore and Gallery.” And because this Saturdayis the 11th annual National Independent Bookstore Day, we’ll browse his shelves with this 2022 "At Work" story.

This story first aired on March 15, 2022 and it aired again most recently on the April 25, 2024 episode of Crosscurrents.

Click the play button above to listen to the story

“I hop on the 48 BUS in the Sunset neighborhood and get off at 24th and Folsom, in the middle of the Mission District. On a sunny Saturday like this, everyone is outside. Taquerias and other colorful storefronts are full of customers.’’ says Elizabeth. She walks for a few blocks to the new storefront of Medicine for Nightmares. In the window there are books by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, and Aneta Cruz. Because at this store, books by black and brown authors are central. Josiah Luis Alderete is one of the co-owners.

“I’m a proud spanglish speaking, pocho poet who also happens to be a bookstore owner. and yeah, I’m what you call one of the heads of the three headed monster.” Josiah explains. Josiah Luis and his business partners all come from creative backgrounds. Josiah Luis is a poet, Tân Khánh Cao (tahn cahn cow) an artist, and JK Fowler started the Nomadic Press.The previous bookstore that occupied this space decided to close its doors in 2021, and despite being in the middle of a pandemic, Josiah Luis and his partners took a chance to open a new business.

Josiah says, “When I found out the space was going to be put up for sale, a space that has existed as a bookstore for ten years, in the neighborhood, on one of the main streets, in a beautiful Latinx neighborhood, like the idea of it not being a bookstore just couldn’t happen. So I stepped up, and found some other beautiful people who were willing to do the same.”

Josiah knows that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, opening a small business right now. He states, “it’s probably one of the stupidest things you can do. But at the same time, this place is like a labor of love, it’s a leap of faith, you know. I couldn’t imagine this space not being a bookstore in the neighborhood, you know, being a community center in the neighborhood, being a place where people gather and see themselves reflected on the shelves, see their cultura, see who they are on the shelves. The mission doesn’t need another pour over coffee spot or yoga store, you know. And not to over exaggerate, it really could have happened that way. This space could have turned into something that didn’t serve the community, that didn’t have knowledge of literature in it. So, we had to do it.”

For Josiah Luis and his partners, representation matters. He says, all throughout high school, he never saw one book that reflected his culture in writing, in literature, or in English classes. For Josiah, where he discovered his cultura was in bookstores; in the poetry section of City Lights Books he found the authors Jimmy Santiago Baca and Pedro Pietri.

Josiah says, “there was this moment when I opened this book where I saw myself, I saw my cultura, I saw my brown skin, in these words, and for me, this sounds kind of hokey, I -- one of my dreams is people come in here and that happens to them.” And It’s already happened.The first week that they opened, this young Latinx momma came in, with her daughter and her mom, right so there were three generations of women in the store. And they all came up, they bought a book, and they left. A few minutes later, the mom came back.

Josiah says, “She was crying, she was, she was.. llanto, and we said “what’s the matter?” and she said, “We don’t have this where I’m from, like my little girl found a book, my mom found a book, I found a book. Whenever I come back here, I’m coming in the store. I’m bringing my husband next time.” And that was a profound moment for me, because that was a little girl found herself in the literature, the momma found herself in the literature, the abuela found herself in the literature.” Josiah wants that to happen every day.

“It really is like survival for us. The little ninos, The chiquitos, the escuincles, they need a place where they can come and find children’s books in their familia’s language, you know, where they can open these coloring books, these young picture books, where they can see brown skin reflected back at them, you know.” Josiah says.

Because of the Beat movement, a lot of people think of North Beach as the literary heart of San Francisco. “San Francisco, the Mission district played a huge part in the creation of literature. You know, la calle veinticuatro was an area where like poets from Nicaragua, El Salvador, you know, Queer poets, even Nuyorican poets, Afro-latino poets ,Writers, playwrights, all these artists came to the Mission Oscar Zeta Acosta wrote right there in a Valencia street in an SRO hotel, you know, Juan Felipe Herrera, amazing first Latino US poet laureate, he lived here, this was his spot, you know. The Brava theater produced amazing plays. So uh, for us, like having a bookstore in this neighborhood is part of a legacy that we want to continue, you know.” states Josiah.

Josiah Luis talks about how bookstores have been and are, white spaces

“The majority of bookstores are white owned. The majority of literature you see in bookstores is from the white gaze, it’s that white male shit, even with this idea of niche literature, you go into these bookstores where there’s like an Afro Latino section, or like a Black section, but for us, those things aren’t niche literature. Those things are our cultura.” says Josiah.

Medicine for Nightmares is not just a bookstore, it has a gallery space and they host a variety of events throughout the month. There’s a series that’s been going on for four years now, that highlights latinx authors and poets – they call it the decolonized poetic space. The weekly zine called Tiny Day holds workshops here, and a neighborhood Son Jarocho group practices in the gallery space.

“It’s really beautiful, we leave the door open and they’ll be playing their Son Jarocho music in the back, and you hear it, it kind of cascades unto 24th street. And people walking by in the neighborhood, they’ll poke their heads in and they’ll literally come in because they hear this music, this music that’s from the barrio, from Veracruz, that’s also from them.” says Josiah.

After spending a little more time with Josiah Luis Alderete, The unusual name of this bookstore - Medicine for Nightmares - is starting to make sense. Josiah jokes how they stole it from a Sun Ra song; The Afro-furutist musician.

“I actually think he came from the other dimension and put it in our heads. Because we said the name, and you know it clicked in a big way. And also, I mean we liked it not just because it sounded good, but also because like for Black and Brown folks, literature is that, literature is medicine against these everyday nightmares, these nightmares in North America of us being killed, these colonized nightmares that have existed for generations. Literature for us is protection, it’s finding ourselves.” says Josiah.

Crosscurrents @WORKCrosscurrents