November 21, 2014

Spotlight on Aurora Anaya-Cerda

Aurora Anaya-Cerda is the founder of La Casa Azul Bookstore, East Harlem’s only independent bookstore and the only bookstore in New York that features art and writing by Latin@ writers. Established in 2012 and funded in-part by a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo, La Casa Azul Bookstore has become a cultural hub in the city, providing programs, classes and readings, from local artists to nationally recognized writers and performers. Ms. Anaya-Cerda is also the founder of the East Harlem Children’s Book Festival—an event that connects authors, publishers, families and the community as a whole. 

We love Casa Azul and consider it one of our artistic homes. Radical Evolution recently produced the East Coast book release reading and party of The Panza Monologues, Second Edition at La Casa Azul. We completely sold out of books but don't worry - Aurora ordered more copies! 

Next week, Virginia will participate in Casa Azul's Authors as Booksellers Event. She will be selling books at the bookstore November 29th on Small Business Saturday. Come see what books she recommends for the holidays!

Aurora Anaya-Cerda in front of La Casa Azul
Why did you open Casa Azul Bookstore?
As an artist, educator, 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 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, but reading work by Chicana/o writers connected me to stories that I could relate to. 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!

When I moved to East Harlem from East LA at 27, I decided to make my dream of having a bookstore a reality and I dedicated myself to learning about bookselling. I fell in love with El Barrio, its history, food and art – but there wasn’t a bookstore at that time. I decided to open La Casa Azul Bookstore because I wanted a bookstore in my neighborhood – I was fortunate to have the support of hundreds of readers and fans, when I launched the $40Kin40days campaign and made the bookstore a reality. But that didn’t happen overnight, for six years I took business classes, worked and volunteered IN SIX bookstores, and traveled the country meeting with booksellers studying diverse business models.

Kai Diata Giovanni, Guest reader extraordinaire at
The Panza Monologues, Second
Book Release Party at
La Casa Azul
Tell us about choosing a location for the bookstore. Why El Barrio? What finally swayed you to your present address?
I moved from Los Angeles to El Barrio because I love this neighborhood. I learned about East Harlem’s history and saw many parallels between East Harlem and my neighborhood back home – East LA. I worked at East Harlem Tutorial Program and at El Museo del Barrio – both were walking distance from my apartment and immersed myself in the neighborhood – visiting galleries, cafes and community spaces. The decision to open a bookstore in El Barrio was intentional – I was asked to consider other neighborhoods, and even other states – but I noticed that one space was missing in East Harlem, a place to buy books in the neighborhood.

Tell us about your goals for author readings - what do you hope the events "do" for your customers?
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 2 and a half years ago (June 1, 2012) we have held over 500 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 bilingual storytelling hour every Saturday.

What's been one of the most memorable reading events by an author you have had and why?
We have neighbors, educators, tourists, and many local artists visit the bookstore. Once, Sonia Manzano (Maria on Sesame Street since 1971) stopped by to purchase a book, while her cab waited outside to take her to the airport. We also have surprise visits 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!

With over 500 events held at the store, it’s difficult to choose just one – but one of the most memorable was hosting Sandra Cisneros in the Fall 2012: The House on Mango Street was the first book in which I saw my reflection. Oh! I also love when I overhear customers say: “I wish this bookstore existed when I was a child – I am so happy La Casa Azul Bookstore is here.”

Playwright Migdalia Cruz reading at La Casa
Azul's Panza Monologues' East Coast Book
Release party, September 2014
What has been your biggest challenge as a small business entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur I have the same challenges that many other small business owners have:  time management, store finances, the never ending to-do list.

As a bookstore owner, I know about Amaz*n’s presence online and the appeal there is to order books online. There have been some frustrating moments: customers make a list of books they will buy online, or being told that they only shop online for books. We use those moments to let our customers know that the benefits of supporting La Casa Azul Bookstore. Spending a few extra dollars has many more benefits that outweigh the free shipping option on Amaz*n. The extra dollars spent at La Casa Azul Bookstore pay for our knowledgeable staff, creative programming, carefully curated selection of books and the sales tax we are required to pay NY state – and keep a brick and mortar space open for business.

What are your hopes for the future of the bookstore?
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?

Copies of The Panza Monologues, Second Edition
arrive at La Casa Azul
What is your favorite quote from The Panza Monologues book?
“You will learn your abuelita’s remedios – aceite de olivo calientito, un tecito de canela o manzanilla. Curaras con tus propias manos.” -from Historia

My grandmother was a healer – she used aceite and teas to make me feel better. Her warm hands healed me much faster than any pill – her hands transferred love and strength to my panza.


When not at the bookstore, Aurora is with friends, exploring New York, reading a good book or cooking! – making her panza very happy. The Panza Monologues made Casa Azul's 2014 Bestseller List. Read more about it HERE. You can buy your copy of The Panza Monologues at La Casa Azul Bookstore at 143 E 103rd St, New York, NY 10029. If you are not in New York, they will deliver the book right to your doorstep! Support independent bookstores.