September 2019

Gallery Talk

by Myrna Zanetell

Menu of this month's listings, stories and columns

Cinco Puntos Press still in print after 34 years

Established in 1985 and named for El Paso’s Five Points neighborhood where founders Lee and Bobby Byrd reside, the independent publishing house Cinco Puntos Press celebrates its 34th year of providing readers in the borderland and across the nation with high quality, one-of-a kind, literary offerings.
Focusing on “multicultural literature of the American Southwest and the U.S. Mexican border region and Mexico,” its diverse publications include adult and young adult fiction and non-fiction, as well as poetry and bilingual children’s literature.
The history behind the founding of Cinco Puntos is as interesting as the two people who have devoted their lives to this endeavor. Lee Merrill Byrd was born and raised in New Jersey and her husband, poet Bobby Byrd, was born in Memphis, Tenn. The two met in Colorado at the Aspen Writers Workshop during the summer of 1966. Later they married and moved to El Paso.
For the first 15 years that Cinco Puntos was in business, the couple worked out of their house. Employed at Fort Bliss, Bobby was the primary breadwinner until 1981 when their two young sons, Johnny and Andy, ages seven and four, were severely burned in a playhouse fire. Following three months of intense treatment at the Shriners’ Burn Hospital in Galveston, the boys returned home. At that time Bobby took over their care, and Lee assumed his position at Fort Bliss. Lee later moved on to El Paso Natural Gas where she worked for the next 12 years, nine as a technical writer and the last three as editor of “The Pipeliner,” the company’s in-house publication.
Because Bobby was running the press and interfacing with writers and clients, he became the face of Cinco Puntos. By 1996 the business was profitable enough to allow Lee to join Bobby in making a full-time commitment to the Press.
Their first book, published in 1985, was a collection of short stories entitled “Winners on the Pass Line” written by Dagoberto Gilb. Their second book, “La Llorona, the Weeping Woman” by Joe Hayes came out in 1987, and not only became a best seller but still serves as the bedrock of their business.
“Although there weren’t too many publishers doing that at the time, we published La Llorona in a bilingual format because that is how Joe liked to tell his stories,” Bobby said. “We call ourselves ‘The House that La Llarona Built’ because it continues to remain a steady seller for us.”
Since both were writers (Lee fiction and Bobby poetry), neither knew much about publishing children’s books so for a time they were more comfortable publishing adult fiction. Over the years, however, bilingual children’s books have kept the press alive.
Lee explains the reason for this success. “I think one of the things that makes us unique is that we live and work in El Paso right at the heart of our subject matter. El Paso and its fronterizo life have given us a unique perspective on American culture.”
As a small independent press, they have been able to explore publishing one book at a time, choosing the subject matter that interested them without the pressure felt by larger publishers in New York City.
Perhaps it has been this gift of taking their time and following their instincts that has contributed to the Presses’ longevity. After they received the American Book Publishers award in 1999, a member of the Before Columbus Foundation commented, “We always hear about the passion in this business, but rarely the devotion. What Bobby and Lee Byrd have created is what begins as a dream and ideal for most people, but after the hard work and constant battles take their toll most get jaded and things get reduced to a simple business proposition. Bobby and Lee and all at Cinco Puntos have had the integrity to continue to live their dream, not just on the border, but across borders. This is one family; one publisher which deserves our attention and respect.”
In an interview with Cynsations writer Cynthia Letisch Smith, Lee shared, “My husband Bobby says that publishing is like writing – it’s an act of discovery. I agree because each book takes us to a new place, to new understandings, to meet new people.” Lee adds that she feels publishing is even more satisfying than writing because you can be part of making many voices heard. “Publishing is also a collaborative process, and nothing makes me happier than working together with our staff (of six) at Cinco Puntos. Our daughter, Susie, and her husband, Eddie, worked with us for a number of years back in the 1990s.”
Despite this continuity, changes were in store for Cinco Puntos in 2019. Taking on a larger role in the business, Lee and Bobby’s son John has been named as the new President and Chief Financial Officer. Co-Publisher Bobby Byrd will transition into Publisher Emeritus in charge of developing special projects, assisting staff and spending more time developing his talents as a poet. Co-founder Lee Merrill Byrd will continue to serve as Publisher and Editor in Chief.
Long-time colleague Jessica Powers will become the company’s Editorial and Foreign Rights Director. Stephanie Frescas Macias joins the company as Publicity Director. Artist and graphic designer Zeke Pena will join the company part-time as its first Artistic Director. “Cactus Mary” Fountaine continues to fill her roles as Inventory and Office Manager.
Lee offered these insights for new writers interested in sending their manuscripts to Cinco Puntos:
“We don’t always know what we’re looking for until we actually see it, but the one thing that matters to us is that the writing is good, reflects the devotion of the author, and that it fits well with the concerns of our press. It helps if writers are familiar with what Cinco Puntos Press has already published, and perhaps even purchased some of our books.”
Lee added, “While our primary focus is on books which have themes that deal with the American Southwest, the border and Latin American topics, our publication list is quite varied. Our titles include nearly half a dozen books that seek to bring clarity to the inherent problem of drug dealing and its consequences. We also have several titles that focus on the Mexican Revolution. ‘Ringside Seat to a Revolution’ has been one of our most popular. When it comes to the border region, as a general rule, we are not interested in purely local topics.”
One recent publication, “Song for the River” by Phillip Connors, is a compellingly beautiful narrative about his love for and experiences along New Mexico’s Gila River, speaking both to the regional and national consciousness.
She continued, “While our adult audience is very important, young adult and children’s literature have become our mainstay. Our goal is to choose selections which allow teens and even our younger audience to see themselves in our books. For the past four to five years we have been working with Native American writers and have also been producing a selection of Early Concept Books. One of our writers, Cynthia Weill, went to Oaxaca to research her material. The result was books that are bilingual, bright and beautifully illustrated using wood carvings from Oaxaca. Pre-kinder options include one about colors, numbers and even animal sounds. Other bilingual folktales include ‘La Llorona’ and ‘El Cucuy, A Boggyman Cuento.’”

El Paso Museum of Art

We were surprised and saddened on July 24 when we received the following announcement from MCAD Director Tracey Jerome: “Dr. Victoria Ramirez will be leaving her position as Director of the El Paso Museum of Art, a position she has held since 2017, in order to pursue professional opportunities outside the state.”
“During her tenure, Ramirez oversaw the redesign and reinstallation of the Museum’s Kress Collection, as well as the preliminary work on the Museum’s Refresh Project, which includes a reconfiguration of much of the exhibition space in the second floor galleries. Reflecting on these accomplishments, both the museum staff and the general public wish Victoria great success in her new endeavors.”

Myrna Zanetell is a freelance writer
specializing in the visual arts

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