As soon as Wolfman Books announced its permanent closure at the end of July, the literary and arts hub established six years ago in downtown Oakland began alluding to an imminent reveal.
There was little time to eulogize the narrow store with creaky floors that over the years doubled as a gallery and publisher, housed a queer and trans skateboarding company and community printer, and hosted countless readings, screenings, and performances. The end of the cozy cubbyhole shop bursting with projects and collaborations would fittingly prove to be a catalyst.
Wolfemme+Them, a group of five former Wolfman employees, on Wednesday announced in a press release that they’ve leased the 410 13th Street storefront for an as-yet-unnamed “cooperatively-run bookstore and resource center for creative collaboration and organizing.”
They have also launched a $30,000 fundraiser to cover startup costs and a year’s rent.
The collective, comprising artists and writers Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo, Samantha Maria Espinoza, Tara Marsden, Sophia Schultz Rocha, and Jevohn Tyler Newsome, said in the statement that the Wolfman successor will remain a book and zine store with space for literary events.
They also envision it as a space for education and activism, herbal medicine, and free groceries where “poets and musicians co-conspire with community organizers.” The space and retail selection will prioritize the work and needs of Black people from Oakland and the Ohlone indigenous people of the East Bay and “center BIPOC [Black, indigenous, and people of color] and QTPOC [queer and trans people of color] needs, wants, visions and dreams.”
“If I could’ve imagined in the beginning of Wolfman that when the space closed, five incredible people would be taking over and radicalizing it further—I would’ve been amazed,” Justin Carder, who founded Wolfman in 2014, and who is supporting the transition without taking an active organizing role, said in an interview. “It’s turning into a bigger, wilder expression of itself.”
Wolfemme+Them has also published a self-described manifesto online. Hard copies were distributed at a curbside book and furniture sale outside Wolfman Books at the end of July.
The lyrical document, dedicated to “all the incredible BIPOC / QTPOC folks who have influenced and shaped Wolfman,” namechecks local art collectives and publishing projects including Lower Grand Radio, Unity, Maji Press, Irrelevant Press, Umber Magazine, and Timeless, Infinite Light.
The manifesto highlights political projects that flourished in the space: “To the revolutionary reading groups who dreamt up new worlds without oppression, where the police, prisons, and borders have been abolished, where mutual aid has replaced capitalism, where all of us are free.”
The $30,000 fundraising goal would support a year’s rent and utilities payments and the costs of inventory acquisition, renovation, equipment, and furnishings, according to the Gofundme page. The collective officially takes over the space on August 15. There is no date set for opening.
In an email, the collective said they “intend to responsibly disclose all relevant information regarding our mission, our model, and our initiative via social media, newsletter, and our crowdfunding platform,” declining to be interviewed or answer written questions for this article.
The Wolfemme+Them collective members all played critical roles at Wolfman Books and its related publishing arm. Branfman-Verissimo, an artist who is now based in Richmond, Va., was visual arts editor of the Wolfman-published New Life Quarterly. Espinoza, an artist and arts educator, was the shop’s event coordinator and zine consigner. Rocha, a filmmaker and photographer, who is also a CTRL+SHFT Collective member, organizes mutual-aid for food service workers. Marsden, a writer and founding editor of New Life Quarterly, created the BIPOC-centered autonomous learning community hyphal network. Newsome, a poet and illustrator, is developing a collaborative storytelling platform called SupermarketPoet Press.
Wolfemme+Them is seeking additional cooperative members, particularly Black artists, writers, and organizers born and raised in Oakland, according to the press release.
Wolfman Books has played a vital role in the Bay Area literary and arts community both as a publisher and event space. It published books of essays on film and art, providing a platform for local poets and artists to critically engage the work of their peers, an especially valuable service in the absence of a robust independent cultural press. New Life Quarterly, meanwhile, paired new and established local writers in the same encouraging spirit of a typical reading in the shop.
The store was always a shoestring operation supplemented by Carder’s income from other work and donated labor. As early as this past April, though, Carder realized Wolfman could not financially endure the pandemic. “I realized I was going to run out of money,” he said. Carder decided to close, and the workers decided to take over. Carder has in turn supported the transition.
Carder aimed to make Wolfman an inclusive space from the outset, he noted in a farewell announcement, but staff members weren’t fully integrated into financial, publishing and operations decision-making. Though there was discussion of formally collectivizing, it never manifested. Because the business wasn’t profitable, Carder was reluctant to distribute the risk.
“I wasn’t able to imagine a way out,” Carder said. “I hadn’t really left open the option of changing in a bigger way, and it surfaced the question of who’s this for? Who does this place belong to?”