E.M. Wolfman Bookstore

By Cody Sisco

“The purpose was to bring people together,” Justin Carder, founder of E.M. Wolfman general interest small bookstore, told me.

E.M. Wolfman could have been a tool lending library or a do-it-yourself fix-it shop. Instead, Justin created a bookstore, using skills honed while managing Dave Eggers’s famed Pirate Supply Store in San Francisco and during his lifelong apprenticeship to his father, building and fixing things in the Carder family home.

The bookstore’s floors are made of shipping pallets. The shelves and counters are hand-crafted. In an era of faux-artisanal, precious products and franchised lunch experiences, E.M. Wolfman is building community one shift at a time with books at the epicenter.

Facades of the E.M. Wolfman General Interest Small Bookstore (at left) and Wolfman New Life Quarterly Bookstore (at right)

Before I “squee!” too loudly about community, I should state an important fact: there are two E.M. Wolfman Bookstores. E.M. Wolfman General Interest Small Bookstore is located at 410 13th Street in downtown Oakland, CA, steps away from the Tribune Building and the 12th St BART station. The store opened in April 2014 after Justin struck a bargain with the landlord, who had initially said no. “Let me renovate the space for you,” he offered, and it worked.

Interior of the E.M. Wolfman General Interest Small Bookstore

Today used books on carts invite passersby to browse them and come inside for more. A small gallery space hosts temporary micro-exhibitions. During events, the bookstore serves as both auditorium and production studio: live podcasts and discussions become the raw material for essays and books; film screenings and discussions become the subject of documentaries.

A screening from the Black Aesthetic Film Series

The newer store, Wolfman New Life Quarterly Bookstore, opened in August 2017 and inhabits part of a shipping container. It is located at 644 40th Street, also in Oakland, near the MacArthur BART station, where the Richmond and Pittsburgh/Baypoint lines come together, an apt metaphor for the connections the store seeks to make. This smaller space sees a quarterly shift of content in a kind of infinite mirroring: the Wolfman New Life Quarterly Bookstore is the headquarters of the Wolfman New Life Quarterly Magazine, which comes to life in the bookstore through events and its collection.

Interior of the Wolfman New Life Quarterly Bookstore

I shouldn’t leave out the residency program, which had me asking, “Why doesn’t EVERY bookstore do this?” Past residencies have showcased the “Poetics of the Ampersand,” a queer conversation; a “Black Aesthetic Film Series;” and a “Mender in Residence,” who worked on clothing as her text, with her mending equating to editing. In other words, the residencies provide time and space for the kind of art that is playful, meaningful, and important all at the same time.

Political posters become the backdrop for events at E.M. Wolfman bookstores

Justin called E.M. Wolfman “a small shop where you might not find what you’re looking for, but you’ll definitely find something interesting.”

I got the sense that there’s a peculiar kind of magic happening there: Justin obviously overflows with ideas and enthusiasm, yet when I looked at the different events, artists, and authors contributing to E.M. Wolfman’s success, it was obvious there was participation by a deep and diverse pool of talent. The hub of the bookstore is not Justin’s mind vomited into a space, it is a living, breathing, artistic symbiosis that somehow thrives in the midst of an artistic apocalypse of rising rents and gentrification. The arts and literary scene in Oakland has always been a gem in the rough, much overlooked by its neighbor across the bay, and yet thriving in a way that is grounded in community interactions. E.M. Wolfman is not just a bookstore, it’s a community hub. Visit as soon as you can.

As a Reckless Readers participant, E.M. Wolfman offers LARB members a 10% discount.

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