East L.A. book shop stocks up on arts and culture

Romney Keys reading at Seite Books/Nathan Solis

ByNathan Solis

Outside Seite Books a street vendor calls out ‘¡guavas, papayas!’ in a singsong voice, while inside author Romney Keys reads an excerpt from his unfinished novel. About two dozen people are in attendance for the reading at this East Los Angeles bookstore, pushed up against bookshelves as they listen to would-be authors, poets and musicians.

Suemi Guerra, organizer of the Fall Reading,  has never done anything like this before. The crowd is polite, and she appears nervous, excited when reading from her fiction zine, “Suicidal Goldfish.” She takes on the energy of someone at a rock concert as she pumps her fists in the air and sounds out words like “Hell-uh-yeah!”

Off to side are Denice Diaz and Adam Bernales, owners of Seite Bookstore, a neighborhood staple for children, adults and students in search of cheap text books.  The book store hosted the recent reading and music event after Guerra, who recently joined a writers circle, approached the couple with the idea.

Seite Books originally began as a single shelf after Diaz and Bernales moved to East Los Angeles from Chicago with a trunk full of books. It was Diaz’s mother who asked the two if they wanted to sell anything in her boutique off of Rowan Avenue.

“It first started off with clothes, backpacks and some books,” Bernales says pointing to a faux wooden shelf, their first shelf in the shop.

Bernales describes the book scene in the area as nonexistent before Seite Books officially opened in 2010. “I think that’s why we decided to expand on the idea, with nothing else in the area providing books for sale,” says Diaz who grew up in East Los Angeles.

The shop still has elements of the boutique with clothes racks, women’s perfume, but now with books. Lots of books. Stacked to the ceiling, filling out the back office and spilling out into the East Los Angeles neighborhood on the $1 sidewalk cart for bargain books. It’s a nondescript store from outside and graciously quiet on the inside. Local zines and graphic novels fill out the shelves, while specialty books on Chicana studies and other course requirements from East Los Angeles College are requested every semester.

Guerra’s Fall Reading event ends around 8 p.m. with a live performance from the band Ms. Shapen Figures, who play an acoustic set. The remaining literary fans applaud and a few people from outside cheer. “I never hear music like this when I’m out here,” says a woman walking home from work who stops to listen to the end of the set.

Guerra  is beaming at the end of the night. Plenty of people read, the music was a nice end, she says. Two weeks later Guerra says in an email that people are asking when the next event is going down.

“I have a good feeling that there is going to be more events like the ‘Fall Reading’ at Seite Bookstore.”

Suemi Guerra at Seite Books/Nathan Solis

Young audience member listens as Runson Willis performs/Nathan Solis

Book bargains/Nathan Solis

Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis stories, reviews and photos at Smashed Chair.


  1. Just wanted to mention that text books are a relatively small part of our shop. We primarily stock classic and world literature, modern fiction, poetry, Spanish language books. As well as various non-fiction covering topics such as Latin American and Chicano history, California/Los Angeles History, gender studies, philosophy, religion, music, science, women’s studies, and the occult.

    As mentioned we carry a lot of zines and we’re currently organizing an Eastside Zine Market on December 8th, it’s a great opportunity to find local art, writing, and comics in the affordable and self-produced medium of zines. It’s free to attend and there is more information here http://eastsidezinemarket.tumblr.com

  2. Juanita Zavala

    Read about your store in the LA Times, looking forward to visiting your store. Always looking for bookstores.


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