The Tattered Cover Bookstore announced yesterday that Clara Villarosa, the founder of two iconic African-American bookstores, has joined the Denver store to oversee the Hue-Man Experience at Tattered Cover.
Villarosa was the owner of the Hue-Man Experience Bookstore in Denver as well as a partner in The Hue-Man Bookstore & Café in New York City. In the new effort, Villarosa "will serve as a curatorial expert for individuals as well as educational institutions, corporations and nonprofits, providing thoughtful guidance on book selections that encourage diversity, equity and inclusion," according to a press release.
Villarosa opened the Hue-Man Experience, Denver’s first Black-owned bookstore in 1984. Sixteen years later, Villarosa sold the store and moved to New York City, where in 2002 she and two business partners launched the Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe in Harlem, near the Apollo Theater. Maya Angelou read at that store's opening. At the time, the Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe was the largest Black-owned bookstore in the country. After severing her ties with the Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe and moving back to Denver, Villarosa founded with her two daughters, Villarosa Media, which publishes new books by established Black authors and reissues in digital formats classic works about the Black experience.
“I’ve always had a real affinity for Tattered Cover, beginning with its previous owner, Joyce Meskis, graciously acting as my mentor when I opened my first bookstore,” Villarosa, 91, stated. “At this point in my life, reviving the Hue-Man brand wasn’t something I had previously imagined. However, in light of recent events, the need for this sort of inclusive curation and focus on diversity in literature is as evident as ever. My goal for this partnership with Tattered Cover is to build awareness around important issues, while giving a voice to Black authors.”
“When a school seeks to expand its curriculum to be reflective of a more diverse world, the Hue-Man Experience at Tattered Cover will help them select and acquire those titles,” pointed out Kwame Spearman, the CEO of the Tattered Cover, “When a large organization needs resources for staff development and conversations around issues of race, we are their partners.”
Not only will Villarosa curate book selections for customers, within the store, she will provide Tattered Cover buyers at its four outlets recommendations for diverse books to ensure adequate representation on store shelves of books by BIPOC authors. Villarosa’s recommendations will be highlighted on an ongoing basis on the Tattered Cover’s blog and in store newsletters.
Spearman, who is himself Black, headed a group of investors who purchased the Tattered Cover in late December from Len Vlahos and Kristen Gilligan Vlahos, who had come under fire for their tepid response to George Floyd’s death and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests last summer. After the transfer in ownership, Tattered Cover was criticized by many Black booksellers for immediately billing itself as the country’s largest Black-owned bookstore. In response, Spearman vowed to “move forward with a mindset fueled by Black Lives Matter” and make the store more inclusive and accessible to Denver’s BIPOC community.
In an earlier version of this story, the Hue-Man Bookstore in New York City was mis-identified. Clara Villarosa's affiliation with that bookstore also has been clarified.