It began with a bookmark.
Clara Villarosa, former owner of the long-shuttered Five Points bookstore the Hue-Man Experience, is returning to her Denver literary roots, bringing back her brand by partnering with the Tattered Cover and its new CEO, Kwame Spearman. Together they’re launching a new division of the Tattered Cover focused on Black representation and curating diverse literary selections for organizations and individuals. And the idea, Spearman says, came from his mother.
“It was Christmas Eve,” Spearman says. “My mom brought down a Hue-Man Experience bookmark and all these other books that we’d purchased at Hue-Man; she was reminding us of the history of the place. I was sixteen years old when it closed, but I remember very vividly going down to the store and buying Black Santa holiday cards.”
Villarosa, now ninety years old, says she’s thrilled to be back in Denver. “I love the city,” she says. “I love the people. And I loved being a bookseller. The light in the children’s eyes when they saw the books. They were pretty, they were well-illustrated, and [the characters] looked like them.”
Villarosa’s Hue-Man Experience bookstore had a notable run at the edge of Five Points, at Champa Street and Park Avenue West. That successful store inspired local readers from its inception in 1984 until Villarosa sold it in 2000 and moved to Harlem in New York City to be near her daughters and grandchildren. She opened a new location there under the same name.
Now Villarosa will provide recommendations and program direction for the new division, which will have a section devoted to it and its selections in both the brick-and-mortar stores as well as online.
For Villarosa, it began with some serendipity. “Someone had sent me a copy of the article about Kwame taking over Tattered Cover, and I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I should reach out to him.’ But then I thought, 'Well, I don’t know, I don’t know who he is, so I’m just going to let it go.' And then lo and behold, my daughter called and said, ‘Mother, the man who bought the Tattered Cover is trying to get in touch with you.'”
When Spearman explained the proposal to Villarosa and her daughters, her initial response was one of cautious interest. “I haven’t quite left Colorado,” she recalls thinking, having sat on the board of trustees for the University of Denver for decades, flying to Denver from the East Coast and back again. “I don’t know what this might look like, but it’s worth a conversation.”
She also really wanted to know who Kwame Spearman was.
Spearman had found Villarosa by reading information on Wikipedia, which led him to her daughters, whom he contacted through LinkedIn. “They responded within 45 minutes,” Spearman says. “And for the sake of authenticity, I showed them the Hue-Man Experience bookmark from 1996."
The move will allow the Tattered Cover an opportunity to recast itself as a leader in the local celebration of diversity in literature and social issues. The store’s former owners had stumbled during the pandemic, when in addition to the retail dip caused by COVID, they failed in many customers' eyes to live up to the moment of Black Lives Matter and social justice issues.
“In 2020, people were very much understanding the need to diversify, to spotlight underrepresented voices,” Spearman says. “It wasn’t just something I wanted Tattered Cover to be a part of; it was something I wanted us to lead. So I was already thinking about ways we could make an impact there, and when I was re-introduced to Hue-Man, it just came together. There was this huge and impactful opportunity to bring back the Hue-Man Experience to Denver and use it as a service, to be a center of excellence, to curate those titles and authors and stories for the city of Denver.
“Clara has editorial control,” Spearman adds. “While our team is essentially going to be digging and speaking with publishers and gathering all the information, we’re taking Clara’s guidance on the types of titles and basically the direction of the ship.”
To kick off the partnership, and in celebration of Black History Month, Villarosa has identified a list of recommended books. Here are a few of them, all available through links on the Hue-Man Experience section of the Tattered Cover website:
- Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories From the Transformative Justice Movement, edited by Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
- Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
- Deacon King Kong, James McBride
- Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo
- The Echoing Ida Collection, edited by Cynthia R. Greenlee, Kemi Alabi and Janna A. Zinzi
- Yellow Wife, Sadeqa Johnson
- Before The Ever After, Jacqueline Woodson
- Black Futures, Kimberly Drew & Jenna Wortham
Villarosa’s recommendations will be highlighted in the Tattered Cover’s blog and newsletters on an ongoing basis. Individuals looking to receive her selections are encouraged to sign up for the newsletter at the Tattered Cover website. Organizations interested in partnering with Hue-Man Experience at the Tattered Cover may contact Villarosa’s team at email@example.com.
Have a favorite memory of the Hue-Man Experience bookstore? Share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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