For countless years, Latino authors have been creating beautiful stories that has captured diverse audiences. Gabriel García Márquez, Paulo Coelho, Isabel Allende and Junot Díaz are names recognized across many borders.
However, there are many other Latino writers who are also creating remarkable work yet aren’t being distributed in mainstream bookstores. La Casa Azul in East Harlem is filling that gap.
The bookstore’s founder, Aurora Anaya-Cerda, says she recognized a void existed for providing access to unknown Latino authors and artists and worked to make La Casa Azul the “literature hub in the neighborhood” of East Harlem.
“I needed something like this to exist for myself because I recognized very early on how books impacted my life in general,” said Aurora. “All books shaped me but then learning about books that reflected my culture and my language and my history – that had a very different impact on me.”
In 2011 Casa Azul launched a successful $40,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund a permanent home for the bookstore, which was a true labor of love for Aurora. Six years had passed from the store’s beginnings as an online store to its storefront ribbon-cutting ceremony, as Aurora labored to raise her presence through community board meetings and other events.
In a time when major booksellers are shutting their doors or downsizing, community-driven efforts like Casa Azul are flourishing precisely because of the relationships they’ve built and nourished.
As Aurora says, “in an era of digital everything, I think people still want and need that space to come together and just talk.”
While La Casa Azul is first and foremost a bookstore, it does much more than just sell books. Averaging around 20 different events a month, the bookstore has recently held a crowdfunding workshop along with more traditional events such as book clubs and writer panels.
La Casa Azul is also embracing its future and has expanded to include a coffee shop in its space on 103rd Street and rented a space this past summer with East Harlem’s La Marqueta, a food market that is revitalizing the area. This partnership gives them further visibility and allows them to connect with the greater East Harlem community.
Leading the way in a cultural renaissance, La Casa Azul is shaping future generations. It serves as a reminder about the permanency of the Latino experience by not only giving rising stars a voice, but by also creating a community that embraces them.
“It’s wonderful that people like Junot are getting recognition for their talent and it’s well-deserved. But it shouldn’t be that next year we don’t talk about any other Latino writer,” says Aurora. “In fact, there are other very talented young writers that are out there and that’s where Casa Azul comes in.”
Address: 143 E. 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029
Tel: (212) 426 – 2626