In an age where bookstores are closing, independent bookseller and former middle-school teacher Aurora Anaya-Cerda opened the doors of La Casa Azul Bookstore, in East Harlem, last June. I first heard about La Casa Azul through some of my online communities including Letras Latinas, VONA, and a small group called Facebook. At first it sounded too good to be true. Then, I read more about it and realized that it was too good not to be true. The Latino community of New York has been waiting for such a space and place and now it was here. Aurora was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions about La Casa Azul.
What was the inspiration for opening La Casa Azul Bookstore?
As an artist and entrepreneur, La Casa Azul Bookstore is a reflection of who I am and the goals that I have to feature Latino/Chicano writers. One of the reasons why I am decided to open La Casa Azul Bookstore was because Chicana/o literature was critical in my own education and identity. Growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on, from cereal boxes, to magazines and comics.
When I discovered Chicana/o writers like Sandra Cisneros and Rudolfo Anaya, I connected to their stories and then began seeking out more books that reflected my identity and experience. By then I was already in high school and I wished I had read about them earlier!
In a given day, who might step through the front door of La Casa Azul Bookstore?
We have neighbors, educators, tourists and many local artists visit the bookstore. Once, Sonia Manzano stopped by to purchase a book, while her cab waited outside to take her to the airport. We also had a surprise visit by Junot Díaz; that is what is great about being in a city that is home to many great writers – you never know who will stop by!
From a quick glance at the bookstore calendar, it is clear that La Casa Azul Bookstore is more than a bookstore. I’m fascinated by the opportunities that La Casa Azul Bookstore offers for the community. Can you please tell me more about the vision behind this model?
La Casa Azul Bookstore aims to create a business that is much more than your average retail store by being the literature hub in East Harlem. We serve as the third place, a community meeting space. Since opening the store 4 months ago (June 1, 2012) we have held over 50 events, ranging from book clubs, author signings, gallery shows, film screenings, conferences and writer’s conferences and workshops. For children we’ve had art, music and dance classes on a seasonal basis, and a weekly bilingual storytelling hour every Saturday.
Recently, Casa Azul hosted its first mini lit conference led by Kweli journal. How did it go?
It was amazing! It was wonderful to partner with Kweli Journal to bring writers and agents together. La Casa Azul Bookstore carries books by local/self published writers who are presenting their book for the first time in a bookstore. We are happy to provide that platform for writers and artists.
Where do you hope to see La Casa Azul Bookstore in five years? Ten? Somewhat related, how do you see the role of digital publishing affecting the Latino community in general, and the bookstore specifically?
La Casa Azul Bookstore is dedicated to providing cultural, and educational programs via literature and art in East Harlem. It is our vision to foster appreciation of the arts by being a focal point where people come to find unique gifts and participate in culturally-based workshops that celebrate Latino traditions. I see La Casa Azul Bookstore as a place that embraces the neighborhood’s history and legacy and as a place that will be in El Barrio for many, many years.
Digital publishing has impacted the traditional bookselling model, but it is key for bookstores/businesses to be flexible. Being open to changing with the times is what will help La Casa Azul Bookstore stay open and be the place in El Barrio where convergence occurs, where people come together to discuss ideas, share information, meet artists and authors. What digital platform offers that?
You can follow La Casa Azul Bookstore on Twitter @LaCasaAzulBooks, visit them on the web, or call them at (212) 426-2626.Might we be so bold as to suggest that you subscribe to Ploughshares?