Tag Archives: Esmeralda Santiago

Creating a bookstore, with a little help from friends and strangers

Body art by Mia Roman. Photographed by Johnny Ramos.

Update: La Casa Azul Bookstore opened in June 2012. Here’s a New York Times article about its opening.

Aurora Anaya-Cerda (pictured above) wants to bring a Latino-oriented bookstore to East Harlem – and she’s asking you to help out.

Anaya-Cerda has created the “40K in 40 days” campaign to raise money to build La Casa Azul Bookstore in the Hispanic neighborhood in New York City. If she raises $40,000 by Oct. 24, an anonymous donor will match the amount. So far, the campaign has raised $10,000 so far and attracted attention from the Shelf Awareness newsletter and the Huffiington Post. Donors can receive a wide array of incentives, from books to T-shirts.

“I had to get creative, so I read about crowd funding and knew that was the way to go,” she said. “So far, over 100 people from New York to Australia have given to the ‘40K in 40 days’ because they recognize how important it is for an independent bookstore to exist.”

She knew it was important for Latinos to be exposed to their culture’s literature since she was young.

“Chicana/o literature was critical in my own education and identity,” Anaya-Cerda said. “Growing up, I was an avid reader, but it wasn’t until I discovered Chicana/o writers that I connected to the 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! La Casa Azul Bookstore will be that place for adults and, especially for youth, because reading about your history and your culture should not have to be something that you read about in high school or during college courses.”

Anaya-Cerda has been planning the bookstore for years. She has worked and volunteered in five bookstores, taken countless business classes, attended book-selling school twice, travelled the country meeting with booksellers and built relationships with publishers and authors nationwide.

La Casa Azul has been running online for three years and has played host to author signings with Junot Díaz and Esmeralda Santiago. It has also established the annual East Harlem Children’s Book Festival.

Once the bookstore opens next year, she plans to host book clubs, author signings and storytime for children, as well as serve as a community meeting space. The store will sell pastries, art, clothing and locally-made cards and gifts. It will also continue to work with area schools and nonprofits to advance literacy in the community.

“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,” she said.

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Festival time!

Hispanic authors will be making their mark at book festivals this fall.

The Brooklyn Book Festival begins this weekend, and other festivals across the country will follow in the coming months. The festivals feature readings, question-and-answer panels, and autograph sessions by the writers. Here’s a list (not definitive) of some of the major festivals:

• The Brooklyn Book Festival, which starts Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 15-18, will include Juan Gonzalez, Sigrid Nunez, Esmeralda Santiago (pictured at left) and Justin Torres.

• Esmeralda Santiago will speak at the National Book Festival Sept. 24-25 in Washington, D.C.

• The West Hollywood Book Fair, which takes place Oct. 2, will feature David A. Hernandez, Melinda Palacio, Felice Picano, Héctor Tobar, Justin Torres and Marcos M. Villatoro.

• Julia Alvarez and Carlos Eire are scheduled to speak at the Boston Book Festival Oct. 15.

• The Southern Festival of the Books will take place in Nashville Oct. 14-16. Lisa D. Chavez, Lorraine López, Helena Mesa, Justin Torres (pictured at right) and Marisel Vera are on the schedule.

• The Texas Book Festival, which runs from Oct. 22-23 in Austin, will feature Sarah Cortez, Kami Garcia, Dagoberto Gilb, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, Artemio Rodriguez, Mary Romero, René Saldaña, Jr., Alex Sanchez, Hector Tobar, Justin Torres, Sergio Troncoso, and Richard Yañez – not to mention 250 other writers. Wow! Just goes to show, everything is bigger and better in Texas.

• Sadly, the Los Angeles Latino Book & Family Festival, which was scheduled for Oct. 8-9, has been canceled due to budget issues.

• Luis Urrea (pictured at left) will speak at the Louisiana Book Festival Oct. 29 in Baton Rouge.

• The Miami Book Fair Festival International takes place Nov. 13-20. A list of authors had not been posted on its website yet.

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Book review: Esmeralda Santiago’s “Conquistadora”

Conquistadora is the tale of a strong, feminist Latina living in the wrong century.

Esmeralda Santiago, best known for her 1994 memoir When I Was Puerto Rican, has written the epic story of Ana Larragoity Cubillas, a 19th century Spainard who yearns to live an adventurous life overseas after reading the journals of her ancestors who traveled to the New World three centuries earlier. At the age of 18, she convinces her husband, Ramón, and his identical twin brother, Inocente, to run a sugar cane plantation in Puerto Rico.

“I don’t expect to be happy all the time,” Ana tells a friend. “I’d rather be surprised by one moment every so often to remind me that joy is possible, even if I have to pay for it later.”

Good thing she has that attitude because, over the course of two decades, Ana endures the death of loved ones, adultery, family disputes, a fatal cholera epidemic, and bad accounting practices. But Ana leads the large plantation to success, employing more than seventy-five workers – many of them slaves. At the same time, the United States is in the midst of the Civil War over its slaves. Some of Ana’s family members support abolition in Puerto Rico, and the slaves’ uprising leads to the story’s tragic conclusion.

But readers can be tested to reach the ending of this thick book. The story drags at times – especially when Santiago provides historical background that, while providing context, makes the novel seem like a history book. Still, readers will keep turning the pages because they will want to know how Ana handles the next obstacle in her way.

More on Esmeralda Santiago:

• Santiago talked about and read from her book to PBS Newshour earlier this month.

• She wrote an essay about retirement for AARP VIVA.

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