Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sherman Alexie on the Colbert Report

Poet and novelist Sherman Alexie (or here)was on the Colbert Report last night. He was great, giving tit for tat, or tat for tit, whichever way you think is best. The folks here at Cinco Puntos are unabashed Sherman Alexie fans. He's fun to read, novels and poetry, Smoke Signals (one of my grandchildren's favorite movies) is a good movie (especially if you in your growing up, like me, had to wrestle with father ghosts), and he's one of those writers who has the wit and desire to reach beyond the choir when he's singing his song. Especially with the book mentioned in this episode of the Colbert Report--The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for which he won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. It's important that writers of such stature, especially writers of color, are understanding that this is an important audience. And, as Sherman says, the people who are reading the YA novels have minds that are still open.

Besides, Sherman is a good guy. Enjoy.

And thanks to son Andy Byrd for sending along the link.

Monday, October 13, 2008

PITCH BLACK: Don't Be Skerd

I was born to people who didn’t want me and so they gave me away. But I guess the people they gave me to didn’t want me either. No one wanted me. That’s why I ended up on the streets alone and uneducated. I couldn’t read or write. I didn’t know anything and the whole world knew it.

This is the voice of Anthony Horton. Born in 1968, Anthony is a homeless artist who lived underneath New York City. If you want to see his work, you’ll have to walk along the tunnel walls in the darkest parts of the transit system. In 2005, he met Youme Landowne, another artist, there at one of the subway stops and they began to talk. They rode downtown and uptown and downtown again, discussing art and life, and they decided to begin working together. They decided to write a book which would tell Tony’s story. But here was the issue—how do you tell the story of a life that seems so bleak? Or, as Tony might say it, how do you turn your life into art? How do you bring light out of pitch black darkness?

Pitch Black: Don’t Be Skerd is the fruit of the collaboratiom by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton. And it's the first Cinco Puntos Press graphic novel. Or really, graphic memoir. Besides the trade journals, the primary media attention is primarily local--New York City kind of local. First there was an interview in the Brooklyn Daily by Sam Howe, and then the New York Times ran a nice piece in its “City Room” of its New York/Region section authored by Sewell Chan. The comment string on the NYT piece was interesting, and I entered my own comment to the string:

I am the co-publisher of Cinco Puntos Press. We were honored to have published Pitch Black, the graphic memoir by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton. Thanks to Sewell Chan and the NYT for the nice article and also to the folks in the comment section who took the time to consider Youme’s and Anthony’s work. I found all the comments very interesting, especially since my own reading is different. From my first reading, even though the book is based on a true life story, I saw Pitch Black as a parable, like, for instance, the Good Samaritan. It’s a simple story. A man and a woman meet at a subway station beneath Manhattan, and, against all the expectations and ingrained fears of our culture, they become friends, with all the ups and downs that any friendship has. First they share their ideas about art. The woman shows the man her artwork. The man invites his friend to see his own art and life he has made for himself in the tunnels. Pitch Black opens the door to a life that many people would not otherwise look at.

Like all parables, the cast of characters and the context could easily be changed. The story could be about a Jew and a Palestinian in Jerusalem, a poor woman and a rich man on the streets of Bangladesh, a Republican and Democrat for God’s sake. Our times, I think, demand such stories. The point is in reaching out across cultural, racial and economic borders to touch and understand another person. And because Ms. Landowne and Mr. Horton tell their story with grace and minimalism, they allow for such a reading as mine. By the way, this is Youme’s second book. The first, Selavi: A Haitian Story of Hope, received numerous awards, including the Jane Addams Peace Award for 2005. She’s a brilliant artist and storyteller. Part of her art is in listening to the stories of other people, especially people who aren’t like her. -- Bobby Byrd

Youme Landowne and Cinco Puntos Press will be attending the Miami Book Fair the 15th and 16th of November. We’ll be writing more about Pitch Black after the festival. And we hope to do a short video of Youme talking about the collaboration with Anthony and the making of the book. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 6, 2008

REFORMA 2008, Benjamin Alire Sáenz & El Paso

JUNTOS @ THE BORDER--the 3rd REFORMA Conference of Librarians--was in our hometown of El Paso, Texas in September. This was an important occasion for Cinco Puntos: REFORMA is the affiliate of the American Library Association that promotes Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking communities in the United States. We are a fronterizo press, specializing in the literatures of the border, Mexico and the American Southwest, with a particular emphasis on bilingual books for children. The librarians of REFORMA have long been supporters of Cinco Puntos. Indeed, we could not have achieved what we have without their support. We hoped to show our gratitude by sponsoring the Thursday night reception in the twin patios adjacent to and atop of the Plaza Theatre complex. It was a wonderful September night, full of mariachi music, good friends, loud laughter and happy chatter. El Paso was able to show off the on-going revival of our downtown. Cinco Puntos also helped to bring two of our important independent publishing colleagues to the exhibits, Groundwood Books and Curbstone Press.

One of our most significant writers Benjamin Alire Saenz gave the keynote at the Saturday luncheon. Ben believes in the importance of such opportunities, and for his talk he prepared a speech entitled "The Writer's Life, A Novena." Below is a youtube clip of the last two parts of that speech. He talks about teaching the art of writing and he talks about living the art of writing.

Cinco Puntos has just published Ben's most recent bilingual children's book--A Perfect Season for Dreaming / Un tiempo perfector para sonar. The wonderful folk-like but surreal illustrations are done by Esau Andrade of Tijuana and San Diego. The book has already received two STARRED reviews, one from Publishers Weekly and the other from Kirkus Reviews. 2008 has been a good year for Ben. He's published two novels, Goodbye to All That, a YA novel from Simon Schuster; and Names on a Map from Rayo/Harper-Collins, both of which have likewise been wonderfully received by national media.