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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Cinco Puntos Press

The Story of Colors / La Historia de los ColoresCon­tro­ver­sy and noto­ri­ety were not the rea­sons that Bob­by Byrd and Lee Mer­rill Byrd began their own pub­lish­ing house, Cin­co Pun­tos Press. They believed in giv­ing voice to ideas, issues, and writ­ers whose voic­es need­ed to be heard.  In 1999, Cin­co Pun­tos pub­lished the book The Sto­ry of Col­ors / La His­to­ria de los col­ores writ­ten by Sub­co­man­dante Mar­cos, the leader of the Zap­atista Army of Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion in Mex­i­co. The Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts at first applaud­ed the pub­li­ca­tion but lat­er with­drew its praise and mon­e­tary grant. The Lan­nan Foun­da­tion pro­vid­ed Cin­co Pun­tos Press with twice the amount of the lost fund­ing and in 2005 rec­og­nized the coura­geous and impor­tant work of Cin­co Pun­tos with the Cul­tur­al Free­dom Fel­low­ship for Excel­lence in Pub­lish­ing. Dur­ing a time of heat­ed con­tro­ver­sy when many issues were added to the mix, pub­lish­er Bob­by Byrd stat­ed:

It was a strange media fren­zy, a true boon to Cin­co Pun­tos. But real ideas and issues got lost in that fren­zy, the most impor­tant of which is the indige­nous strug­gle for auton­o­my and land in Chi­a­pas.”

Cin­co Pun­tos Press con­tin­ues to pub­lish books that have a fresh voice, spo­ken with hon­esty, with­out hes­i­ta­tion.

Thus it is no sur­prise that Cin­co Pun­tos has won sev­er­al awards and their books—fiction and non­fic­tion, adult, YA, juve­nile, and pic­ture books—continue to rise to the top of best book lists as impor­tant books to read. Their awards include The Lan­non Foun­da­tion Cul­tur­al Free­dom Fel­low­ship for excel­lence in pub­lish­ing, the Amer­i­can Book Award from the Before Colum­bus Foun­da­tion, and the South­west Book Award for excel­lence in pub­lish­ing from the Bor­der Region Library Asso­ci­a­tion.

Lee Merrill Byrd, publisher

Lee Mer­rill Byrd, pub­lish­er

I asked Lee Mer­rill Byrd how and why she and her hus­band, Bob­by Byrd, began an award-win­ning press.  Some of her respons­es will sur­prise you.

What is the most reward­ing aspect about being a pub­lish­er?

Friends, authors, illus­tra­tors, col­leagues, work­ing with our son and work­ing with each oth­er, find­ing writ­ing that is full of vital­i­ty, quirk­i­ness, ener­gy, find­ing writ­ers who know how to write, even find­ing writ­ers who don’t yet know how to write. Watch­ing read­ers who love the books we’ve pub­lished. See­ing writ­ers we’ve pub­lished pros­per. It’s all good.

What was the pas­sion that gave you the courage to form Cin­co Pun­tos Press?

This is a great ques­tion: I don’t think we had either pas­sion or courage when we start­ed Cin­co Pun­tos Press in 1985. We were two writers—I’m a fic­tion writer and Bob­by is a poet—with three kids—and we were tired of work­ing for oth­er peo­ple and wish­ing we had more time to write. (Pub­lish­ing is not the answer to hav­ing more time to write, by the way.)

We vis­it­ed Richard Grossinger and his wife, Lindy Hough, who ran North Atlantic Press in Berke­ley. They had pub­lished a book of Bobby’s poems, called Get Some Fus­es for the House. They told us they were mak­ing about $25,000 a year as pub­lish­ers. It was 1985, and that sound­ed real­ly good! So, with­out know­ing any­thing, we decid­ed that we would become pub­lish­ers. For­tu­nate­ly we had a friend down the street, Vic­ki Trego Hill, who knew how to design books and anoth­er friend two blocks over with a short sto­ry col­lec­tion, Dagob­er­to Gilb, (Win­ners on the Pass Line) who lat­er became famous and prob­a­bly for­got all about us. We didn’t have dis­tri­b­u­tion. We prob­a­bly didn’t know what dis­tri­b­u­tion meant. We didn’t have a phone num­ber in the phone book, so when Alan Cheuse reviewed Win­ners on the Pass Line on NPR, no one knew how to find it!

All this is to say that I think the very best thing that we have had going for us is that we didn’t know any­thing at all about pub­lish­ing when we start­ed. And the fact that we live here on the U.S. / Mex­i­co bor­der, far from the so-called cen­ter of pub­lish­ing in NYC. That has allowed us to be unfet­tered by the kind of com­pe­ti­tion that pre­vails in New York and also to have our own par­tic­u­lar vision of what makes a good sto­ry. And, of course, to be deeply inter­est­ed in cul­tures that are not like the ones we grew up in.

As an author, what can I do to give my work the best chance to be pub­lished by your press?

This is a toughie with no guar­an­tees, but I think the best thing a writer can do to get pub­lished by Cin­co Puntos—or by any press—is to write. If you want to be a writer, make writ­ing a dai­ly habit and write from your own heart and write for your own under­stand­ing. Don’t write to get pub­lished, but write to get at what you want to say.

In my sub­mis­sion guide­lines on our web­site, I ask aspir­ing authors to call me on the phone and tell me what they would like us to con­sid­er. I gen­er­al­ly don’t hear peo­ple who are writ­ers. I hear peo­ple who want to get pub­lished more than they want to write. That should not be the dri­ving force.

What recent pub­li­ca­tions are you espe­cial­ly excit­ed about?

I’ll men­tion a few.

Feath­ered Ser­pent, Dark Heart of Sky: Myths of Mex­i­co by David Bowles.

Our first-ever Span­ish edi­tion of The Smell of Old Lady Per­fume by Clau­dia Guadalupe Mar­tinez. This book in Eng­lish is a clas­sic, just as good as The House on Man­go Street, in a Span­ish edi­tion.

When a Woman Ris­es, by Chris­tine Eber, the sto­ry of two young women grow­ing up in Chi­a­pas dur­ing the begin­nings of the Zap­atista rev­o­lu­tion, going very dif­fer­ent ways.

Iron Riv­er by Daniel Acos­ta, a YA set in the late 1950s in L.A.

From Nan­cy: One book—a pic­ture book—I will add to your recent list of award-win­ning books is All Around Us, a debut pic­ture book writ­ten by Xele­na Gon­za­lez and illus­trat­ed by Adri­ana Gar­cia. All Around Us was select­ed as an Amer­i­can Indi­an Library Asso­ci­a­tion out­stand­ing pic­ture book hon­or, received nation­al recog­ni­tion with the Pura Bel­pré 2018 Illus­tra­tor Hon­or Book, won the Tomas Rivera Best Pic­ture Book Award, and was named as the best pic­ture book by The Texas Insti­tute of Let­ters.

Thank you, Lee, for being “brave and fool­ish” and con­tin­u­ing to pub­lish books that mat­ter. 

Cin­co Pun­tos Press con­tin­ues to be a small press that takes risks, pub­lish­es new voic­es, cel­e­brates a diver­si­ty of sto­ries, and offers the best in good books, well-writ­ten. If you are not yet famil­iar with their books, I encour­age you to seek them out.

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