Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Esther Chávez Cano died in Juárez on Christmas Day. She was 76 years old. She was a hero, a fronteriza woman who in the early 1990s in Juárez saw the continuing tragedy of women being killed and decided to do something about it. With much help she started Casa Amiga near downtown Juárez. At the time it was one of only six rape crisis centers in Mexico and the only one on the U.S./Mexico Border. She brought international attention the continuing murders of women in Juárez and the uncaring and apathetic response by the Mexican government on all levels--city, state and federal--to these murders. Indeed, as we now know, law enforcement was more concerned with supporting the flow of illegal drugs into the U.S. than it was with investigating and prosecuting the murders of women. If anything, the authorities wanted to keep activists like Esther quiet because she brought attention to the vacuum of justice in Juárez. She has received many awards for her work, as the number of obituaries state, but she never veered from the task at hand--helping the women of Juárez.

In 2002, when Cinco Puntos Press was putting together the anthology PURO BORDER: DISPATCHES, GRAFFITI AND SNAPSHOTS FROM THE U.S./MEXICO BORDER, three of us--novelist Jessica Powers, who worked for us at the time, Lee and I—walked over the bridge and went to visit Esther at Casa Amiga. She was a diminutive and very hospitable woman with a quiet way about her but she had a presence that commanded respect. Her work at Casa Amiga was self-evident--women and children were coming and going, and some were staying, being protected inside the walls of the center from husbands or boyfriends who would harm them if they had the chance. Indeed, in December 2001 her receptionist, who had come to the center as a client, was killed by her husband in front of Casa Amiga. When we asked her why she started Casa Amiga, she replied quietly--

“Because I am a woman, because I felt helpless and because I have a conscience.”

Below I am pasting the mostly unedited notes that Lee took during that visit that I found in our archives (Lee also took the photograph above), and below that I am pasting an article by Tessie Borden that originally appeared in the Arizona Republic and that we republished in PURO BORDER. But first, Casa Amiga as always needs financial help. Those who wish to help may do so by making a donation to their account:

No. Cuenta: 65-50227820-0
CLABE 014164655022782007
1427 Suc. Plaza las Torres
Cd. Juárez, Chih. C.P. 32575

Notes from Esther Chávez Cano Interview, June 24, 2002

There is terrible violence against women right now in Juarez. She will give us her list of the names of murdered women with pleasure. She gathered the list from reading the newspapers. She only includes the names of murdered women, not of children, or of people who have disappeared. We asked if she thought the authorities had a bigger list and she said it will do no good to check with the authorities. The authorities will not give us access to names. Everyone who has a list has gathered their information from the newspapers. But what of the women who never get mentioned in the newspapers?

She said, Here is an example of a girl who has disappeared and of what has happened with the mother.  She shows us a photo of a girl, Brenda Esther Afrara Luna, who disappeared two years ago when she was 15. Several months ago (time is uncertain), the mother was told by the authorities that her daughter has been found. But the mother went and looked and it wasn’t her daughter. Then they told her again they had found her. It was not the body of her daughter, but the body was wearing her daughter’s dress. It was very confusing. Esther said there are many cases like this.  The mother in this case has endured a lot of domestic violence herself.

Casa de Amiga was started on February 9, 1999, about three and a half years ago. Esther is the founder. We asked her why she started it. She said because she’s a woman, because she felt helpless, and because she has a conscience. It was funded initially with $31,000 from FEMAP. Last week they received $25,000 from the U.S. embassy [see article below]. It is earmarked for a project to provide therapy for women who suffered incest, rape or violence as children.

Casa de Amiga is the only center of its kind all along the border, the only one in Juarez. There is nothing for battered women.

She mentioned that there have been two deaths in Chihuahua that have similar M.O.s. Why is it different here, we asked. Why is there more violence? This is the border, she said, with its traffic of drugs, its maquiladoras. Poor people come here to seek opportunities, they want to cross the river to live the American dream. In this city there are 500 gangs. There are no opportunities here, conditions are very poor. Have you been to Anapora? It’s a terrible place.

The police hate her. They don’t ignore her. “I would like it if they would ignore me,” she said. They campaign against her. One year and seven months ago, they began their campaign. Governor Patricio doesn’t like her: according to him, she doesn’t do anything right—she’s a terrible director, she steals the money, she herself is a violent woman. And so the stories go. When Esther began talking about the women, Patricio tried to silence her.

In this building, last December 21, 2001, her own receptionist was killed by her husband. This receptionist had four kids, eight years on down, and she was a wonderful worker, good, hard-working, prudent. The husband came to Casa de Amigo to kill her here. From jail, the husband has called for custody of the kids.

When we expressed dismay over this, she said that last week, she had to go rescue a woman who was impregnated by her father. She was 19 and had been raped by him for the last 8 years. She’d had two children. One, a little boy, died of malnourishment. The other, a little girl of 3.5 years, was asked by Esther what had name was. The girl said she had no name. When Esther took the 19 year old woman away, the father went to the Human Rights Agency and demanded that his daughter come back and they agreed to his demands.

There is another girl now who is 11 years old and in the fifth grade. She’s 7 months pregnant. Some woman, a neighbor maybe, took her to a man and he raped her. The father and mother of this girl are separated and she is treated like a puppet.

By Tessie Borden
Arizona Republic Mexico City Bureau
Feb. 26, 2002 12:00:00

JUAREZ, Mexico -- It’s 9:30 a.m., and Esther Chavez Cano’s daily personal war with the unwanted problems of this largest of the border cities has begun.
She rushes into her office at Casa Amiga, the rape crisis center that grew out of the violence that has claimed the lives of more than 200 young women here in the past nine years. Close behind is a staff member describing this morning’s emergency: a neighbor found two girls, 8 and 10, wandering in the city’s El Chamizal park the previous night. They told the woman they were running away from their father’s beatings.

Chavez Cano immediately calls the local district attorney’s office, and one gets the feeling she has done this hundreds of times. In a firm but friendly tone, she calls on the attorneys there to take charge of the children and investigate what they say.

“The authorities just don’t do anything,” she whispers while on hold.

Chavez Cano’s Casa Amiga is the only center of its kind on the Mexican side of the 1,950-mile line that separates the country from the United States. Established in February 1999, it receives funding from both U.S. and Mexican organizations.
Chavez Cano, 66, a diminutive, retired accountant whose mild manner causes listeners to lean in just to hear her, is perhaps the most outspoken and militant voice here on violence against women.

In 1993, she noticed a trend among crimes committed in Juarez: dozens of young women were turning up slain in the surrounding desert. The bodies showed evidence of beatings, rape and strangulation. Many of the women fit a distinct profile: tall and thin, with long, dark hair and medium skin, between ages 11 and 25. Often, they came from the ranks of workers who yearly swell Juarez’s population from other parts of rural Mexico to work at border assembly plants, or maquiladoras.

Prodding the police

“They try to pretend these are not serial crimes,” Chavez Cano said of the local authorities. “It just brings your rage out. It makes you boil.”

Chavez Cano and others formed the Liga 8 de Marzo, an awareness group that collected data about the slayings and prodded police to give the murder investigations high priority - often by picketing the police station, holding crosses bearing names of victims.

No one agrees on the exact number of killings that are related. Chavez Cano says about 230 women have been found in the past nine years, the most recent in November when eight bodies were discovered in a shallow pit. Some slayings have been traced to jealous husbands or drug traffickers. But a large number share characteristics that make investigators believe a serial killer and perhaps copycats are at work.

After raising awareness of the problem to a national level, Chavez Cano decided someone should work to prevent the deaths, rather than just clean up after the murderers.

Help from elsewhere

With start-up money from the Maryland-based International Trauma Resource Center, the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Mexican Federation of Private Health and Community Development Associations, Chavez Cano opened Casa Amiga near the city center. A paid staff of four and an army of volunteers served 318 clients in Casa Amiga’s first year, providing a 24-hour hotline, counseling and group therapy.

Last year, the center added three staff members and served 5,803 clients, of which 1,172 were new cases.

Chavez Cano now worries about a troubling side issue: child sexual abuse and incest. Fifty-seven of her clients in the first year were raped children. So among her most successful programs is a puppet show that teaches children about “bad” touching and instructs them, in a gentle way, to respect their bodies.
The center takes most of her attention, but Chavez Cano does not let the police off easy when it comes to the slayings of women in the desert. They, in turn, have lashed out at her.

An attitude of disdain

Arturo Chavez Rascón, Chihuahua state’s former attorney general, came in for some of her sharpest barbs because of his comments implying the victims contributed to their own deaths through their dress or lifestyle. It’s an attitude shared by police officers on the beat, who Chavez Cano says discourage families from associating with Casa Amiga.

The center used to receive about $3,000 a month from Juarez for rent and salaries, but that stipend has been cut, Cano said. Now, the center relies on money it gets from donations and showings around Mexico of the hit play The Vagina Monologues.

Tragedy close to home

Recently, the center suffered a blow of a different kind.

In December, Maria Luisa Carsoli Berumen, an abused mother who had become a client and then a staff member at the center, was killed in front of Casa Amiga, witnesses say, by her husband, Ricardo Medina Acosta. The two had had a long and violent history that led to Carsoli Berumen leaving him. A court granted custody of their four children to Medina Acosta. She stayed in town, planning to wait until after the Christmas holidays to resume the custody fight.

On the morning of Dec. 21, the pair argued and struggled outside the center, and she was stabbed twice in the chest as she tried to flee. A black bow at the door expresses the staff’s grief. No one has been in arrested in Carsoli Berumen’s death.

Fighting for respect

“The death of Maria Luisa forces us to work more intensely to instill respect in children, men and women, and to sensitize the authorities to the grave risk for families and all of society that domestic violence represents,” Chavez Cano wrote in a column in the local newspaper.

“Rest in peace, Maria Luisa, and watch over your children so they remain united and sheltered by your loved ones who lament your absence.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

FELIZ NAVIDAD! A Christmas Card, #2

Dear Friends and Fans of Cinco Puntos,

Just a little bit more Christmas greetings. We wanted to share snapshots of the folks who work here at Cinco Puntos. The first is from our Christmas Party. It was the only time our two great interns--Amanda Mata and Sergio Rosales--have been at our office at the same time. Both grew up in El Paso and both knew about Cinco Puntos and our books before applying for internships.

Sergio was a student at UTEP when he applied, but his dream was to transfer to New York University, where he wished to pursue a career in publishing. And the first step of his plan has worked. He's off to NYU the first week of January. We wish him well. Amanda has just been with us for a month. She's a student of Dartmouth and is in El Paso while her plans for studying abroad get finalized. In June she heads to Prague. Both Amanda and Sergio have been wonderful assets to the Cinco Puntos family. We ask interns to do all and everything, the same stuff that we do, but we also make it our business that they learn all they can about the publishing industry, especially from an "independent press" point of view. They get to attend meetings, read books being considered for publication and learn about all the nuts and bolts of what we do to keep the boat afloat. We believe they get good experience in this strange business. By the way, the goofy guy on the right is me, Booby Byrd, co-publisher of Cinco Puntos. The beverage we are drinking is not champagne, but a delicious carbonated apple juice that Cactus Mary brought to the party.

These are the folks who make Cinco Puntos get from one day to the next. Starting from the right is Rose Hill. Rose is our IT Manager, doing all the website and newsletter hocus-pocus, but like the rest of us, she puts on all sorts of hats during a single day. Mary Fountaine is next in line. Mary is our Order Fulfillment Manager. That means she manages the warehouse, and she also manages the retail space, plus other bits and pieces of the biz. And the handsome man on the left is Michael Drapes, our accountant. He visits us once a week, usually Friday, bringing us his remarkable head for numbers, his good spirits and, when we're very lucky, some delicacy that he's cooked up at home. The reason they are all here in this snapshot is yesterday was INVENTORY DAY. Mary, Rose and Michael have been counting books all day. The year is ending.

And finally, here's Lee Byrd and son Johnny Byrd. They seem so at ease and at peace in this photograph, huh? John is our Business Manager, or CFO, but really he's involved in every nook and cranny of Cinco Puntos. Without his steady presence over the last few years, Cinco Puntos would not have continued. Lee of course is Co-Publisher and serves as Acquisitions Editor and Managing Editor. No CPP book leaves the building without Lee having read it at least five or six times.

We wish you all a Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year. And we also send out our wishes and prayers for peace and justice for our friends and neighbors in the City of Juarez just five minutes from our business. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

FELIZ NAVIDAD! A Christmas Card, #1

Dear Friends and Fans of Cinco Puntos Press,
Oh, Christmas keeps happening in El Paso. Yesterday we received this wonderful photograph from our friend Ray Caballero (past mayor of El Paso, currently enjoying life as a photographer and historian in Portland with his wife Mary). The photograph is our building at 701 Texas Avenue, must be sometime in the 1920s. Cool, huh? Holmes Dry Cleaning in its first life. Even did some:


Whatever that means. The street is dirt, the warehouse next door (now a lawyer's office) is not there. Ray found it in the incredibly rich archives of the downtown El Paso Library . Below is a photograph I took this morning. It's raining outside, wintry and cold. The solstice is cracking open the dark days, the New Year is at hand. We wish you all a Merry Christmas!

Bobby and Lee Merrill Byrd

Friday, December 11, 2009


Happy Holidays!

The Cinco Puntos Press store is full of wonderful books--and some very unique gifts--to give for Hanukkah and Christmas or simply for some special un-birthday party (we are great believers in the wisdom of Alice's White Rabbit). We are located in downtown El Paso on 701 Texas Avenue and are open Monday through Saturday from 9 to 5 through the holidays. If you live in El Paso or Juárez or Las Cruces or are driving through, drop by and visit with us and look through our bookshelves the old-fashioned way. We'll keep the coffee fresh and buy some biscochos from Gussie's.


Gather the family around the radio on Saturday, December 19 at 1:30 pm, tune in to KTEP, 88.5 FM, and you’ll be able to listen to Benjamin Sáenz reading The Dog Who Loved Tortillas. To see the book itself, or any of our other great books, come on downtown. We hope that KTEP will keep the link live so you can enjoy Ben's reading anytime. By the way, because Ben is a paseño and will be spending most of the season at home, if you want one of his many Cinco Puntos Press books personalized for a special friend, there's a great chance you can get that done. His new novel LAST NIGHT I SANG TO THE MONSTER has received all sorts of national accolades and continues to be considered for some of the year's top prizes.


Cesar Ivan (artist and downtown pioneer) just brought us a batch of his hand-carved, wooden calaca marionets to sell. These dancing skeletons are a delight. Cesar said folks have been asking for them and finally he got some spare time to make a bunch of them. They won't last. You better hurry.

And of course and as always, our office is perfumed by the lovely smells coming from the Cactus Mary Soap display. Her soaps and lotions are all-natural and feature the scents of the desert we call home. Cactus Mary also doubles as Mary Fountaine, the Manager of our Order Fulfillment Department. Thus, you can get personal attention when you're making decisions about buying soap. How could life get better, huh?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

EVE TAL's Speech at the NCTE in Philly (November 24, 2009)

(Publisher's note: Below is the text of Eve's very well received speech at the ALAN Strand Workshop of the National Council of Teachers of English Convention on November 4, 2009, in Philadelphia. The picture above is taken at her kibbutz in Israel, and those below are of her signing books after her speech and Eve with CPP publisher Lee Merrill Byrd and Walter Mayes, aka Walter the Giant.)

I’ve come a long way for these five minutes. I’ve come all the way from the kibbutz in Israel where I live. I’ve come through countless unsold manuscripts. And I’ve come through years of work on my two YA novels, Double Crossing and Cursing Columbus. I’d like to tell you a bit about them, but first I want to tell you a story.

When I was growing up in Rockville Centre, Long Island in the 1950s, my favorite place in the whole world was the town library. The children’s library was downstairs in basement room. Except for science books, I think I read everything in that library and if I had more time, I could tell you about some of my favorite books.

And then one day it happened. I must have been about eleven or twelve. I approached the librarian for recommendations and she told me with a smile, that it was time for me to go upstairs to the adult section of the library. I had read everything there was to read in the children’s section.

I remember climbing the stairs to the adult library. It seemed huge to my eyes. But what could I read there? The librarian upstairs was bewildered by my question. “Why anything you like, dear,” she answered. What could a twelve year old find to read in the adult library?

Of course, I found books to read, bookworms always do. But they weren’t anything like the feast of YA fiction available to today’s teens. Perhaps that’s why I love reading YA fiction. It fills this gap for me. And why I love writing it.  The trauma never goes away: facing a library full of books and having nothing to read.

I live on a kibbutz in Israel where I’ve lived more or less since graduating from college. I raised my kids there and published picture books in Hebrew. Frankly, I wouldn’t dare to write something set in present day America. I would feel like an imposter. I haven’t been inside a school in America for many many years. I can’t keep up with the proliferation of technological gadgets, social media, virtual media or the language. The teenagers I know and raised speak a different language, both literally and culturally. So I’m drawn to historical fiction, times and places where both my reader and I are outsiders.

Double Crossing and my newest book Cursing Columbus are about immigrants, probably the ultimate outsider group, and my teenage protagonists Raizel and Lemmel are outsiders by nature. Raizel is shy and struggles with her shyness through both books. Lemmel has a learning disability. He ultimately runs away from his family to live on the streets of NYC. We’re talking 1908 here and life on the streets could be harsh and desperate and dangerous.

Life on the Lower East Side of New York was far from the rosy nostalgic memory the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the original immigrants have today. In a way children’s book are partly to blame for this. All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor was one of my favorite books as a child and became a classic. But the picture it painted of immigrant life was far from reality and in my books I wanted to dispel that romantic nostalgia.

In Double Crossing I told a story based on my own grandfather, the story of an immigrant rejected at Ellis Island and forced to give up his religious beliefs, the very core of his being, to gain acceptance into America. Researching Cursing Columbus, I learned about Jewish gangsters and murderers, white slavery, and the life of street children, many of whom were homeless newspaper boys who ultimately died on the streets. All these found a place in my novel.

You might ask, because I certainly do: is historical fiction relevant for today’s teens? Although Cursing Columbus is set at the turn of the 20th century, the choices Raizel and Lemmel face are choices confronting immigrants in America today. On the one hand there is the need for connection to family and community, which provides a sense of belonging and security. On the other is the need to break free and mount a struggle for individual success and fulfillment in a strange new world.

Sound familiar? It should. In a nutshell I think this is the conflict adolescents face between the safety and familiarity of childhood and the family, and the desire for freedom and individual expression. Both groups perform a balancing act and for both the price can be high, but I believe that it’s a price worth paying.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Eve Tal, Ben Saenz & CPP at NCTE 2009 IN Philly

Cinco Puntos Press had a booth at the annual conference for the National Council of Teachers of English in Philly the weekend before Thanksgiving. It was a great event--English teachers, excited about good books and the teaching of  good books to young people--sharing their ideas and enthusiasm with each other. One particular scene said it all for us. Seeing our edition of Joe Hayes telling the Hispanic legend La Llorona/The Weeping Woman, a young teacher from Illinois began telling us how she teaches the story and how she then will move her class into a discussion of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. Another teacher from North Carolina overheard the discussion and asked her a question, and for the next 20 minutes these two teachers stood at our booth discussing books and how and why to use them and what the kids say. It was fun just to listen.

And it got better after the main conference and the exhibit booths closed up shop and the various professional "strands" separated into their own workshops. We were there for the ALAN strand (aka NCTE/Assembly on Literature for Adolescents). The ALAN invited two of our authors EVE TAL (Eve came all the way from her kibbutz in Israel to promote her new historical novel Cursing Columbus about a Russian Jewish immigrant family in NYC's Lower East Side during the early years of last century) and Benjamin Alire Saenz to speak and sign books. It's an interesting concept: 500 teachers of English in a single room listening as a very impressive list of important Young Adult writers give talks ranging from five to 20 minutes. For their attendance, the publishers like CPP give attendees books, and after each writer's talk the teachers line up at autograph tables for the writers to sign their books. The energy for books and literature never flagged. NCTE is an important event and a true testimony to good teachers of literature everywhere.

Be sure to check our blog tomorrow: We'll have a photo of Eve Tal with Walter the Giant (aka Walter Mayes) and the moving speech she gave to the assembled teachers.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Apres Texas Book Fair with Shelf Awareness

José Lozano after reading from his new ABC book
Once Around the Block / Una vuelta a la manzana.
Besides performing at the TBF José, Reading Rock Stars
invited him to read from his book in area schools.

Shelf Awareness published a nice piece about the Texas-based cutting-edge literacy project READING ROCK STARS. Cinco Puntos has been honored to have a number of our authors perform for the program throughout the state of Texas. The week before the Texas Book Festival, the RRS invited artist and writer José Lozano to perform and talk about his work for Austin area kids. José joined us for the book festival and performed again in the Children's tent. Besides being a children's book writer and illustrator, José is in the vanguard of the L.A. Latino arts scene. Shelf Awareness, by the way, is rapidly becoming an important venue for reviews in the book industry, creating an on-line model to rival traditional review media in printed form. Please visit the Shelf Awareness website and subscribe. Below is a portion of the article about Reading Rock Stars. You can follow the link for the complete piece. And at the bottom are more photos from the Texas Book Festival.
The "Keep Austin Weird" movement in Texas may have been at the forefront of the nationwide "Shop Local" campaign, but now another Austin-based initiative could well be a blueprint from which other states can benefit: the Reading Rock Stars program.

Launched 10 years ago as "Author! Author!," the program began in conjunction with the Texas Book Festival in Austin to bring children's book creators to underserved schools in the area. "We had all these authors coming into town for the festival that we could also invite into the schools," said Blair Newberry, director of outreach for the Texas Book Festival, which was held October 31-November 1. "A few years ago, we changed the name to Reading Rock Stars--that's what authors are to the kids."

The authors read to the children, then sign copies of their books, which are donated by local foundations such as One Sky, ECG, the Meadows and Wright Family Foundations, as well as corporate sponsors like HEB (a grocery chain) and Scholastic, which has donated the books for its featured authors. More than 100 authors have participated so far, and books have been given to more than 25,000 students. For some of them, it's the first book they've ever owned. [TO READ THE COMPLETE POST AND TO SIGN UP FOR SHELF AWARENESS, GO HERE.]

Ben Saenz in our booth at the TBF.
Photo by Cynthia Leitich Smith from her blog.

Ben was in Austin to receive the Tomas Rivera Mexican-American Children's Book Award
for his YA novel He Forgot to Say Goodbye (Simon & Schuster). There were two winners this year, Ben and Carmen Tafolla for her book The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans (Wings Press). Ben was delighted, of course, to spend much time with us celebrating his new YA novel from Cinco Puntos Last Night I Sang to the Monster and his new illustrated book for young readers
The Dog Who Loved Tortillas / La perrita que le encantaban tortillas.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cinco Puntos at NCTE in Philly

The National Council of Teachers of English (aka NCTE) is gathering this weekend in Philadelphia. We're delighted. Philly is one of our favorite convention cities. It's a great walking city and the Reading Terminal Market is just across the street from the Convention Center. Good books and Philly cheesesteaks and Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. Life is good. The NCTE is separated into two parts--the regular convention which is from Friday, Nov 20 to Sunday Nov 22. Cinco Puntos will be displaying our books in the exhibit area at booth 641. And Sunday evening the convention separates into a number of different parts, with aficionados of different disciplines going their separate ways. Cinco Puntos follows the ALAN Strand, teachers of YA fiction. This year's theme is Scattering Light on Our Freedom to Think, See, Imagine, very apropos to being in historic Philadelphia. This is a two day gathering of passionate readers, literature teachers, fans and writers talking together about YA fiction, their favorite books. Lots of panels, lots of face to face talk, lots of free books, lots of books to buy. It's exciting.

Eve Tal is in-country from Israel and she will be in Philly to help us celebrate her new book Cursing Columbus. The novel is the much anticipated sequel to Double Crossing, both novels tracing the life of Raizel, a Jewish girl who with her family immigrates from Russia and settles in the Lower East Side of New York City. Eve will be on the panel New Voices: Spreading Light, Sharing their Work at 8:55am Tuesday.

And Benjamin Alire Sáenz will be there too, signing books at our booth all day Sunday. He has two new books from Cinco Puntos: his newest YA novel Last Night I Sang to the Monster and his illustrated bilingual children's book The Dog Who Loved Tortillas / La perrita que le encantaban tortillas. Ben will be on a 11am panel on Monday morning--Splintered Lights of War and Strife in YA Literature.

Representing Cinco Puntos will be the old folks, Lee and Bobby Byrd.

Monday, November 16, 2009

La Cosecha 2009: Tim Tingle and Cactus Mary Fountaine

Cinco Puntos Press is delighted to be sponsoring Tim Tingle this week at the 14th Annual La Cosecha Dual Language Conference (11/18-11/21) in Albuquerque. Tim's performance will be 11:10 to 12-30 Friday November 20th in the Cochiti room of the Albuquerque Convention Center. The tentative for his talk and performances is "Indians Do Walk on Water," a reference to his award-winning Crossing Bok Chitto. He will be signing books at our booth before and after his performance. Our representative this year will be the one and only Cactus Mary Fountaine, who not only works at CPP but also finds time to run her own hand-made soap-making business.

Other speakers at the event will be Alma Flor Alda, Isabel Campoy, Stanley and Yolanda Lucero and many others. There will also be a special showing of the award-winning film Speaking in Tongues. If you are an educator in the area, please drop by and see what's happening in education as we learn to enjoy our diverse world of peoples and languages.

Friday, November 13, 2009


SPANGLISH BABY: Raising Bilingual Kids has a great interview of Benjamin Alire Saenz talking about his new bilingual book The Dog Who Loved Tortillas / La perrita que le encantaban las tortillas. They also are offering a free book as part of their READ ME program. To win a book you need to share with them what you do to promote bilingual literacy in your home and school. Hurry. Deadline is Sunday evening, November 15.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Congratulations to Jeanne Rorex Bridges

Congratulations to Jeanne Rorex Bridges! Ms. Martha Griffin-White, an Oklahoma patron of the arts, has purchased all eighteen of the paintings that illustrate Tim Tingle's story Crossing Bok Chitto, and she donated the complete collection to the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee, Oklahoma. The museum, which is known throughout the world for its outstanding collection of Native American Art, will make the paintings available to other museums and institutions for future exhibitions. This has been exactly what Jeanne had wanted. She has in the past refused to sell the illustrations separately. She felt that the paintings tell a complete story about Choctaw history and she did not want to see the collection divided into pieces. We at Cinco Puntos wholeheartedly agree. Besides being one of the most successful of our books, we believe that Crossing Bok Chitto is one of the most important books that we have published. It tells an important and long-forgotten piece of American history for our young people.

Below is Jeanne's "Artist's Statement" that she prepared for our website. And below that is a brief description of, and some images depicting, the style of "The Kiowa Five," the work of whom she first encountered as a student at Bacone College in Muskogee.

I am of Cherokee Indian descent and I have been a professional artist for 25 years. I am best known by collectors of Native American Art and most of my awards were in Native American Art competitions. My art education began at age 28 when I attended Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma; a private junior college known as the Indian College. My classes included courses in Indian Art. This flat style (see the info quoted below about the Kiowa Five) of painting was immediately natural for me. To produce Indian Art, you should understand the human anatomy, the tradition and history of Indian people, and be able to portray your feelings in the work. Indian Art is not just a "pretty picture."

The Oklahoma Flat Style is simply that you apply solid color in the shape of, for example, a woman in a blanket. To create that initial shape, you must understand the position of her shoulders, arms and back under the blanket. Pure Indian Art would only allow fine lines of another color and/or gradual changes of flat colors to "shade" the blanket. Over the years, I have developed my own style by keeping the basic Flat Style but adding background work and shading. I have always mixed my own colors from tube paints because I like lots of color but muted, softer colors.
Tim Tingle's story of Crossing Bok Chitto was inspiring to portray. The relationships of kindness and protection, the strength of the women, the shared history of Native and African Americans, and Faith were all in this story. Please refer to my website and see my five paintings of Native and African American women together.

If you would like more information or have any specific questions for me, please call my studio 1-800-681-9366.
--Jeanne Rorex Bridges

The artwork of the Kiowa Five is well known for its representational, narrative style with ceremonial and social scenes of Kiowa life as their subject matter. Many of the oral traditions in the Kiowa culture express the purity and distinct colors of their native landscape. In many colorful paintings, using flat planes of color in bold and direct figures, the Kiowa Five developed a distinctive cultural style, still emulated today. As students of the University of Oklahoma, they received formal art training and wide national and international exhibitions of their artistic skill and finesse with paint, pottery and dance. Travel in the 20’s and 30’s was a unique opportunity for them to follow the age--old Kiowa tradition, to “journey to the four corners of the Earth.”

Friday, October 30, 2009


Cinco Puntos is proud that El Paso's Great Southwest Book Fair is bringing three of our authors tomorrow, Halloween Day, to the Downtown Library. Yep, Halloween and the concurrent celebrations for el Dia de los Muertos is a great time for your kids see and hear Joe Hayes telling the story of La Llorona; Xavier Garza sharing his Lucha Libre and Cucuy stories (he might even help you get ready for Christmas by telling the story of Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid!) and Claudia Guadalupe Martinez remembering her own life growing up in Segundo Barrio via her wonderful novel The Smell of Old Lady Perfume. And they are only three of the attractions. Even the incredible Mexican novelist CARLOS FUENTES will be in town.

Make your plans to attend the GREAT SOUTHWEST BOOK FAIR at El Paso's downtown library!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cinco Puntos at the TEXAS BOOK FESTIVAL

If you're within driving distance to Austin this weekend (Oct 31-Nov 1), try to get to the 14th Annual Texas Book Festival. It's a trip well worth the effort for book-lovers of all kinds. Held at the State Capital it's one of the great cultural events in Texas. Book lovers of all sorts--writers, readers, collectors, musicians, academics, lots of kids--are wandering around the marble halls, a truly peculiar and glorious exhibition of Texas democracy, considering our legislature's history for monitoring and censoring what school children read. Clay Smith, the Festival's Literary Director, does a bang-up job of bringing a cornucopia of writers to the event. Of course, he brings all of the usual suspects--the best sellers, the Texas (read "red state") favorites, the cookbook writers--but he also makes sure the poets, the short story writers, the unusual and the up and comers are there. We're always satisfied (at least, mostly) and we're difficult customers.

Click here for schedule.

Cinco Puntos, with Johnny Byrd and Bobby Byrd at the cash register, will be in booth 307. Cinco Puntos authors who will be participating are Benjamin Alire Saénz (12:30 Saturday) José Lozano (noon Sunday) and Luis Alberto Urrea 2pm Sunday). Reading Rock Stars, a TBF statewide outreach program, José to perform in public schools earlier in the week. Ben is there to receive the Tomas Rivera Award, and Luis is on a panel of novelists talking about writing about Mexico. Please check the schedule for their events.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Marge Simpson and the Byrds in PLAYBOY: Life is Weird

Yeah, folks, Marge Simpson is on the cover of the November issue of Playboy and inside is an article about El Paso "A Weird Calm at the Edge of the Abyss" in which prominent mention is made about the Byrds and Cinco Puntos. The article is by our friend Luis Alberto Urrea (or here)--novelist, non-fiction writer, poet and now essayist. (Luis, of course, has done several books with CPP--an award winning collection of short stories, Six Kinds of Sky; VATOS, a collaboration of a poem by Luis with photographs by José Galvez; Ghost Sickness, a book of poems; and in February 2010, Luis' first graphic novel Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush with Christopher Cardinale.) The editors at Playboy asked Luis to write about the paradox which is El Paso and our sister city Juarez, Chihuahua. Juarez, such a wonderful vibrant city, is enduring the soul-sickening mayhem of the narcotraficante wars, but El Paso is the third safest city in the U.S. How can this be? Luis, who was born in Tijuana and has lived on the border for much of his life, has written extensively on border issues, especially immigration (please visit his website for links to all the various books). So he came to El Paso and stayed at the home of publishers Lee and Bobby Byrd. So, of course, the Byrds and Cinco Puntos wandered into the article as guides. Co-publisher Bobby Byrd has written on his blog about Luis' visit here and here and here. The Playboy article is available and googlable in the blogosphere in PDF form, but as publishers, we will respect copyright laws and not insert the link here.

But there we are in Playboy. How weird, huh?

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Curse on Columbus

Eve Tal's newest book, Cursing Columbus, is now available. This YA fiction title is the sequel to the successful and well-reviewed Double Crossing (Cinco Puntos, 2005), Eve's first historical novel about Jewish immigrants to New York City in the early years of last century. In Double Crossing, Raizel and her father escape Czarist Russia and take the dangerous journey across Europe and the Atlantic Ocean. They left behind Raizel's mother and brothers. In Cursing Columbus three years have passed since Papa and teenage daughter Raizel immigrated from czarist Russia. They have saved enough money to bring Raizel's mother and brothers to America. Their dream of a better life is about to come true. Or is it? Listen to Raizel:
The dream was always the same: I was back in Russia. My family was sitting around the Sabbath table: Mama, Papa, baby Hannah and my brothers Lemmel and Shloyme. I was telling a story about America—there were gold streets and chickens roosting in trees. Suddenly, Papa and I were on board ship sailing far away. Ahead I saw the Statue of Liberty towering over the harbor of New York, but she raised her hand high above her head to stop us. I looked around for Papa. I was all alone.

Then I woke up and remembered.

Papa and I had arrived at Ellis Island. For three years we had been living on the Lower East Side of New York. Papa worked in a sweat shop earning money to bring over the rest of the family, while I worked after school. I dreamed of the day our family would be together again.

And tomorrow, it would finally happen. Would they love America like I did or would they say “a curse on Columbus” because the New World brought them nothing but trouble and hard work?

"A curse on Columbus" cried the Jewish immigrants in the early 1900’s, cursing the discovery of America which had promised so much and brought them so little. Living in airless tenements on filthy streets in New York’s overcrowded East Side, working from dawn to dark in garment sweat shops while barely making enough money to feed their children, it was no wonder they expressed their rage and despair with that mixture of bitter sarcasm that characterizes Yiddish humor. Eve remembered these curses from her own growing up in Manhatten (she now lives with her husband and children in a kibbutz in Israel).

To help explain the title for her readers--especially her YA audience--, she wrote the short essay below:
I chose Cursing Columbus as the title for my new young adult novel to counterbalance the veneer of idealization and nostalgia enveloping the Lower East Side today. Through the voices of Raizel and Lemmel, the dual protagonists, Cursing Columbus reveals a little known side of the Jewish immigration experience. Raizel dreams of becoming a teacher but must balance her personal ambitions with the needs of her family. Lemmel rejects the family’s expectations and chooses a life of crime in the brutal world of the streets.

Readers of Cursing Columbus will discover that the dilemmas facing Jewish immigrants at the turn of the previous century are similar to the dilemmas facing immigrants today. How much should individuals sacrifice their personal dreams and ambitions for the good of their family? Does the process of becoming an American necessitate the suppression of the religion, customs, language and traditions of one’s community for the sake of a common American denominator? Is the family unit strong enough to withstand the pressures of a new country with its conflicting temptations and demands?

The expression ‘a curse on Columbus’ has been largely forgotten as later generations built a better life for themselves, but the questions it invokes remain valid today."

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Last Book Party? Frankfurt Book Fair 2009

The last book party? In mainstream media the talking heads and the laptopped prognosticators are forecasting gloom and even doom for the publishing industry. Computers and ebooks are being blamed. But publishers, especially the independent publishers who are more agile on the dance floor, are still selling books and adapting to the new technologies and readers are buying books. And life in the publishing world is moving ahead.

And yesterday, in Germany, the Frankfurt Book Fair opened its doors once again. The FBF is the huge international rights fair for the publishing industry. The industry wigs--big and small--wheel and deal buying and selling publication rights for books from publishers in other languages. For publishers, these sales are the gravy, the icing on the cake, the cherry in the coke, the extra cash in the door. Cinco Puntos has never been to the Frankfurt Fair, but we have a rights agent that walks the floor there for us and at the London Book Fair as well. We regularly go to Guadalajara, the biggest rights conference in this hemisphere, and we've gone twice to the Children's Book Fair in Bologna, Italy. They are all madhouses. And they can be daunting, especially for the small guys like us, until we've gone for a few years and learned how to swim among the big fishes.

Harper Magazine published a great article by Gideon Lewis-Kraus in its March 2009 issue about last year's FBF (many kudos to Harper's for keeping this article available online). To give you a taste of the relationship of the act of writing and the writer to the raucous capitalism of the event, please eavesdrop in on a conversation that Gideon Lewis-Kraus had with Michael Pietsch, the publisher of Little Brown. They are discussing the constant drumbeat of doom that surrounds the publishing industry these days but they veer off elsewhere too:
He says that publishing is an industry founded on dissatisfaction. “There is a rich loam of disappointment.” He reconsiders. “It’s an industry built in a rich soil of disappointment.” He ultimately goes with “loam.” One can readily imagine this man actually editing, doing his part to help make those loam/soil calls. “Three out of ten books make money,” he says. He makes sure I understand that this means seven out of ten do not. “Most of the time a book never reaches the standards its writer, editor, and publisher have imagined for it. I tell writers not to come to Frankfurt,” he says. “This is all about the commodification of books. It’s a writer’s version of hell.”

Over the course of the week, I will hear a lot of this sentiment: that the stock should not be shown the abattoir. But the more I’m told that writers are excluded to protect their literary innocence, the more this begins to sound aggressive and suspect. It’s faux-apologetic, and I think its real point is not to deride the seamy flux but to flaunt it. The commerce is not the embarrassment; it is the pride. Writers aren’t invited or welcome because once their manuscripts are in the hands of their agents and their publishers and their foreign-rights reps, they are excused from the process. It is time for the professionals to take over.
Lewis-Kraus is able to capture the madness of the FBF. And it's a true madness, a madness that, if not quite cannibalistic, is indeed carnivorous. And it can be exciting and fun. The problem with all such articles, of course, is that they deal mostly with the big whales and sharks. The writers neglect the little fishes that many times are doing books and making waves that will last much longer and be more important than the stuff greased with the big money. Case in point is Gideon-Kraus' description of HarperStudio, "a boutique imprint" of Harper-Collins. (I doubt if a journalist will ever call Cinco Puntos "a boutique" publisher.) The HarperStudio publisher is Bob Miller (at HC via Hyperion/Disney), and he is the hero of Lewis-Kraus' little fable within the article. Miller, according to many industry wags, is supposed to be the man with the new publisher's business model that will revive the industry.
One idea behind HarperStudio is to break the prisoners’ dilemma of contemporary corporate publishing by doing away with the huge advance: the imprint won’t offer any advances larger than a hundred grand. But any profits will be shared fifty-fifty with the writer. Nobody has any clue whether this will work, but everyone seems hopeful about it, and if Bob Miller shows even a little success there’s a good chance other houses will follow suit. I’ve had two conversations so far in Frankfurt in which he has been called a “hero.”
Trouble with Miller's so-called "heroism" (besides the fact that it's fully funded by corporate bucks) is that our friend Johnny Temple at Akashic Books has been running this model for years. This is exactly his model, an idea which he borrowed from the infamous punk record label Discord. They probably borrowed it from somebody else. In the Indie World--publishing or record making--collaboration is a way of life. Still, Johnny and Discord etc get no credit and kudos. And Akashic does important books--politics, culture, cutting edge fiction and the Akashic Noir Series. Indeed, his noir anthologies featuring various cities and states have become bookstore mainstays. Maybe one of these days mainstream media will catch up to the important work that independent publishers have been doing for years. Even more important, perhaps they will begin to notice that the Indie World (read: small publishers) are nurturing the ideas that will guide publishing into the future.

[Notes: First, a happy disclaimer--Bobby Byrd and John Byrd of Cinco Puntos Press are editing Lone Star Noir for Akashic Books. It will be out Summer of 2010. The nice photo of Johnny T and his books is from the stopsmilingonline website from which is also linked to above.]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Congratulations to Lou Lovelady Sikes! She made this beautiful quilt that narrates with quilted pictures Joe Hayes' signature story The Day It Snowed Tortillas. Lou entered her quilt in a quilting contest in Portales, New Mexico, and she walked away with 1st prize in the Challenge Fabric Category. ¡Felicidades a Lou! Being an exceptionally good quilter, she wants all who read this piece to know that her quilt is for sale.

Hearing about Lou's success with her quilt reminded us about the remarkable history of Joe's story and the book which is its namesake--The Day It Snowed Tortillas, Joe's first book [see note below]. From the beginning of Joe's career this story about how the clever woman fooled her husband by making him think that during one cold night it snowed tortillas--of course she fooled a band of outlaws in the bargain!--was a signature story. When Joe and his friend Joe Mowry of Mariposa Publishing (was it 1984 or 85?) decided to publish a collection of Joe's stories, "The Day It Snowed Tortillas" was the natural title. The book became one of the treasured classics of the American Southwest. Mariposa reprinted it tens of times. I'm sure Mariposa Publishing sold well over a 100,000 of them--many of them to Joe Hayes. Back then, Joe was traveling the backroads of New Mexico to school districts hither and yon where teachers and principals could scrape up $50 to pay him to tell stories to the children. Kids who are now adults with kids and even grandkids still tell Joe about when they first heard his stories. It was important to them, living in rural communities, to hear stories that spoke to their own traditions. In 2003, Cinco Puntos Press bought the rights for The Day It Snowed Tortillas from Mariposa and published a new bilingual edition. Let me tell you: The Day It Snowed Tortillas is what the publishing industry calls an EVERGREEN. It just keeps on selling!

Congratulations to Lou, congratulations to The Day It Snowed Tortillas as it is soon will have its 25th birthday, and of course congratulations to Joe Hayes.

[NOTE: Mariposa Publishing, if I remember correctly, published The Day Is Snowed Tortillas a few months before Cinco Puntos published La Llorona, The Weeping Woman, a bilingual telling of La Llorona that became a nationally recognized cornerstone of bilingual books for children.]

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Bookery Celebrates Joe Hayes (Oct 4, 2009)

The Bookery in the old adobe on historic Mission Trail in the El Paso's Lower Valley hosted 200-plus fans to hear a storytelling by Joe Hayes. A rainy morning turned into a beautiful October Day in time for Joe to begin telling stories. Joe treated his audience with two of his "tall tales" and two in his special bilingual storytelling style. But before Joe told his stories, two groups from Efida Chavez Elementary School in East El Paso made a presentation to celebrate Joe and welcome him back to the Valley. Girl Scout Troop 158 performed their favorite story, "Mariposa, Mariposa," and the Moose Cheerleading Corps made a special cheer for Joe.

Girl Scout Troop 158 from Elfida Chavez Elementary
with Joe Hayes after their performance of
"Mariposa, Mariposa"

"Moose" Cheerleading Corps from Elfida Chavez Elementary
with Joe after their special cheer

Margaret Barber, owner of The Bookery,
with Lee Merrill Byrd, John Byrd and Joe Hayes

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lee and Bobby Youtubing LITERARY EL PASO

Marcia Daudistel has edited LITERARY EL PASO for the TCU Press Series which features the literary traditions of Texas cities. I promise you: El Paso's literary history can stand up to that of any city in Texas. LITERARY EL PASO will include John Rechy, Arturo Islas, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Dagoberto Gilb, Antonio Burciaga, Ricardo Sanchez, Rick DeMarinis, Denise Chavez and many many others. It's a humongous book (600-pages plus)--at $30 cheap for its size--and will be available at the end of this month. Lee contributed a story, "When He Is 37" from her collection My Sister DisappearS and I have two poems, "The Gavachos in the Photograph" (The Price of Doing Business in Mexico) and "One Way for Middle-Aged Persons to Meditate" (Get Some Fuses for the House). Marcia and El Paso Magazine asked us to make youtube short videos as part of the promotion. If you're in the neighborhood, Barnes & Noble on the Westside will be having an event on October 24th, 4pm, celebrating the arrival of the book. Below are the videos. Lee only reads the first section of her story, and I read "The Gavachos in the Photograph." If you're reading this on FACEBOOK, which doesn't download video from Blogger, click here for Lee's performance and here for mine.

By the way, the photograph at the top (also in the video) is by Pedro Rueles Alvarez. Here's the note in the back of the book about the protographs: "Pedro Ruelas Alvarez, a street photographer, took the photograph of Lee and me sitting in the corner booth by the front window of the famous Martino’s Restaurant on Avenida Juárez just on the other side of the 'free bridge.' We were living in Las Cruces at the time, and we had no idea that we would ever move to El Paso. Ruelas, who charged us three dollars for the photograph, is now dead, but many of the waiters--including my favorite, Moisés II, a dead–ringer for Peter Lorre--are still there. They all make exquisite martinis right at your table while you sit and watch." Now Moises II is no longer there, and with the insane violence of the drug wars keeping the paseños away from Juarez, Martino's is hanging on by the slenderest of threads.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Joe Hayes at the Bookery in El Paso, Sunday October 4

Yes, it's a Joe Hayes celebration you won't want to miss! Joe Hayes will be telling stories at the Bookery this Sunday. It's FREE!

The Bookery, of course, is that wonderful bookstore in the old adobe building on El Paso’s Mission Trail. The exact address is 10180 Socorro Rd, El Paso, TX 79927 (see map at the bottom of this post), and for more information you can call Margaret Barber at 915-859-4066. She's one of El Paso's foremost book people and she's been hosting Joe Hayes events at her store over the last 20 years. And this Sunday is no exception. Margaret will pull out the stops for a wing-ding of a celebration. And it's FREE!

At 2:30, Joe will start telling those wonderful stories he’s been famous for all these years. Before and after, you can get him to sign your books. A wonderful chance to bring your kids and grandkids and give them the opportunity to hear one of the world’s greatest storytellers.

If you're a teacher or a librarian, please pass this on to all your students! In the meantime, if you want a little taste of a Joe Hayes story, let's watch him tell one of his classic tall tales, "The Gum-Chewing Rattlesnake"--

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009


No wonder Ben Sáenz is so happy! His book Last Night I Sang to the Monster has received two starred reviews--

One from Publisher's Weekly: "...Offering insight into addiction, dysfunction and mental illness, particularly in the wake of traumatic events, Sáenz’s (He Forgot to Say Goodbye) artful rendition of the healing process will not soon be forgotten. Ages 14–up." PW, September 28, 2009

And the other from School Library Journal: "...Sáenz weaves together Zach’s past, present, and changing disposition toward his future with stylistic grace and emotional insight. This is a powerful and edifying look into both a tortured psyche and the methods by which it can be healed." SLJ, September 15, 2009.

To read the complete reviews as well as see all other reviews, please visit Ben's page at the Cinco Puntos website.