Tuesday, June 30, 2009
OPUESTOS, of course, means opposites—right and left, up and down, asleep and awake—and the book is the second in her series First Concepts in Mexican Folk Art. Her first (and very successful) book in the series—AbeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art ABCs in Spanish and English—displays the wood figures created by artisans from the town of Arrazola. Now with Opuestos Cindy went to La Union Tejalapan to collect work from brothers Quirino and Martin Santiago and from others to illustrate the opposites that kids—and adults too!—encounter every day of their lives. These whimsical carved alebrijes will delight both young and old, both the new learner and the collector of Mexican folk art.
La Union Tejalapan sits in the beautiful Sierra Norte in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Quirino and Martín carved most of the figures in Opuestos; their brother Placido and his sons Calixto and Eloy, nephew Maximino Santiago, their cousin Julio Jimenez, and Martin's son Jaime also contributed work for the book. They take their inspiration from the world around them. They observe their own livestock such as goats and cows; domestic animals such as cats and dogs and the wild animals they see in the mountains such as deer and lynx. It takes enormous skill to make the diminutive figures. Carvers use sharp machetes to work the wood from the flowering jacaranda tree. Their wives use aniline dyes to paint the creatures.
Below is a photo of the Santiago clan with Cynthia. And below that is the last spread in the book, one of our favorites—HELLO / HOLA, which leads of course to its opposite GOODBYE / ADIÓS!
Monday, June 29, 2009
Cindy, along with Cinco Puntos and book designer Sergio Gomez, has two more books in mind for this series of Mexican Folk Art books that will present and promote the work of different families of Oaxacan artisans. The work will be featured in First Concepts books for very young children. The next two books in the series will feature colors and numbers.
What Cindy is doing right now in Oaxaca is forming new friendships and revisiting old friends, going from village to village looking for artisans she hasn’t yet met, determining the quality and suitability of their work for the next books, and then requesting that specific art be carved or created. And then, once the art is created, and because the economic needs in Oaxaca are so great, Cynthia must be there to pick up and pay for the work as soon as it’s ready or the artisan, not understanding the process of putting together a book, might sell the work to some other taker. Part of Cindy’s work is to work with the artisans through this process and then to show them how the books can open up their work to a much larger international audience.
Crafts are an economic lifeline for many Oaxacan artisans. Oaxacan woodcarvings are usually purchased by visitors to Oaxaca for decorative purposes. Right now, though, because of the economy and turbulence in Oaxaca, tourism is down.
We love Cindy’s stalwart, persistent way in her search for new art (she’s like a kid), and thought you’d enjoy trekking along with her as she makes her way through Oaxaca via email.
June 17, 2009
Today was my first day in Oaxaca. I had made an appointment to see Qurino and Martin Santiago [main woodcarvers for Opuestos] so that they could see their book. Wish that you could have been here. They had on their Sunday best and were doused in after shave. I gave them the copies of the book and we talked about plans to put teacher ed materials as well as a power point on your website to aid in promotion. They really love Opuestos and were very grateful for the opportunity to have their work shown in such a format.
I certainly hope it helps. Oaxaca is like a ghost town. There is no tourism and the international economic crisis isn't helping much either.
Anyhow, thought I would pass this on. I've got some good photos I'll send along. I also put in an order for a big orange lion for our colors book. Should be very cute.
June 18, 2009
I went out to see the Aguilar sisters today [the main artisans for the book Cindy is planning on numbers]. Irene was positively full of herself because she had just been invited to Vicente Fox's [former president of Mexico] house. She had her picture taken with him and the former first lady. They consider her Oaxaca's greatest artisan. Cripes, we better get that book done fast before she signs on with Hollywood.
I continue to work on the colors book. I'm having some of the artisans re-do the work [they had done the last time Cindy was in Oaxaca] so that it will fit into the smaller space [of the book]. One artisan I had really been counting on to do some skeletons to represent white is no longer producing because he is losing his vision. This is particularly problematic when swinging a machete. Will have to move to plan "B"
June 19, 2009
Was just visiting Armando and Moises [woodcarvers for ABeCedarios]. Armando got invited to this huge event at University of Pittsburgh last fall. He said he signed ABCs books for hours. I took a photo of the poster and will try and send. He thinks they will invite him back again next year.
June 20, 2009
Went off to see one of the Aguilar sisters today. She was going to make me a sample for the numbers book. When I got there she was very apologetic and told me that she had just been invited to an official event in Oaxaca City. So we drove the hour back to town and I sat through several speeches by various functionaries. They were breaking ground on a new artisan center. By the end of the day I had zero ceramic samples but one nifty photo with the governor. Will try again tomorrow. Hope your day was more productive!
June 30, 2009
Hope all is well. I had a hell of a morning. Went out to a rather remote village to pick up blue and red figures. Blue was yellow. I already had yellow so we had to start over. Red was 8 times the size I had asked for, so once again needs to be recarved. On the way out, I was bitten by a dog. Fortunately, he chomped my ankle. I was wearing heavy jeans with long cuffs. (I had those on because there have been several cases of dengue fever in this village and I did not want to give the mosquitos a chance!) One of the artisans scared off the dog with a rather large rock before he had was able to come back at me. Youwza!
July 2, 2009
I planned for several artisans to come by this morning to drop off work. However, it rained torentially last night and flooded the streets. It is raining again this morning. This keeps wood, paper and paint from drying so most people were no shows. One of my favorite carvers Eloy Santiago, he did the pink goat figure in Opuestos, came by unexpectedly at 7:30 a.m. He wanted to talk about a marimba he is making for the colors book and what tones of green he would use. I owed him some money which he asked for and I gave him. He wanted to make the last payment on a saxaphone he is buying for his eleven year old son. I tried to make him see that this might not be in his best interests but he was determined. Anyhow, with the rain it looks like a quiet day at home. I will meet with the Aguilar sisters tomorrow. Each made a sample piece for the numbers book and we are going to see how their figures do or don't work together.
July 4, 2009
Had an amazing day yesterday. I set up an appointment with all four Aguilar sisters to talk about a project for next summer. We have been working together for the last three weeks on samples for a numbers book. Each sister has her own style and usually works separately. However, I wanted to give them all the opportunity to work together on a project and they have agreed. We talked for an hour about the steps we would take to complete the project. When the business part of things was over, the sisters had a wonderful time catching up on things. Although they live very close together their professions and the demands of their immediate families keep them from socializing. Just to give an example, Guillermina and Josefina have over 70 grandchildren between them! There was quite a bit of giggling and teasing. Everyone seemed to be having a lovely time. I was surprised when Guillermina told me later that it had been years since all four had had a chance to just sit down and talk.
Before I left, I went over the plans with Guillermina for next week. She will travel to New Mexico with her sister Irene. Guillermina has been invited to the annual Santa Fe folk art festival and Irene will be the artist-in-residence at Jackalope. They are taking the bus from Oaxaca and will have a five hour layover in El Paso. They have the Cinco Puntos phone no. and plan to get together with Lee, Bobby and Johnny. I'm sure that a good time will be had by all!
July 7, 2009
I had a nice day down here. I went out to Guillermina and Irene's sister Josefina's house. She is such a talented artisan. I told her that I wanted some angels. She does all of her work on the floor sitting in kind of a mermaid position. We chatted away about life and her family and in less than an hour she had two angels playing with a dog. After they dry she will put them in her kiln and paint them. I should have them by Saturday.
Later, instead of going home for lunch I went to a Frida Kahlo party. If you did n't know today is her 102 birthday. You had to dress up. The owner of the place I am staying loaned me a huipil and a long skirt. You should have seen me. When I got there somebody was painting on unibrows. Quite the look!
Dear friends, colleagues, fellow storytellers and lovers of stories,
I’m very sorry I can’t be with you to celebrate the Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Awards—especially since some old friends I haven’t seen in a long time are among my fellow “honorees.”
I’m pleased and flattered that Dance, Nana, Dance / Baila, Nana, Baila has been chosen to receive this award. I’m especially pleased that this particular book, this collection of Cuban folktales, has received such recognition.
Someone has said that enemies are just people whose stories we don’t know. I see a lot of truth in that. The more other people’s stories are hidden from us, the easier it is for us to view them as enemies. But, when we begin to learn their stories, we recognize all we share in common with them and we delight in how the unique beauty of their traditions enriches our own lives.
Political events of the past half century have conspired to keep most U.S. Americans ignorant of the wealth of stories to be found on an island almost visible from our far southeastern shore. My book attempts to open a narrow breach in the curtain of misunderstanding that separates the two countries.
The small selection of stories in Dance, Nana, Dance hardly provides a broad understanding of Cuban storytelling or Cuban culture. I hope, though, that it gives enough insight to generate appreciation for our near neighbors of whom we know so little. Maybe it will even inspire some norteamericanos to travel to Cuba so that they can experience the culture firsthand.
The truth is, however, that I never really tell stories or put them in print out of any political, philosophical or grand artistic impulse: I just want to share something that pleases me and which I think might please others. My fond hope is that children and adults will find these stories entertaining and nourishing. And my fondest hope is that other storytellers will find the tales useful and begin to tell some of them. If that happens, then I’ll know the book truly is a “storytellers’ choice.”
Thursday, June 25, 2009
In the previous blog below, we introduced our readers to INCANTATIONS: Songs, Spells and Images by Mayan Women collected and edited by Ambar Past. (The book, by the way, is available at our website with a 30% introductory discount.) Our trade edition originates from the hand-made and heart-created edition crafted by el Taller Leñateros, a collective of Tzotzil Maya who have joined together in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. Best to let them explain themselves. Here is a quote from their website about who they are:
Taller Lenateros is a cultural society, an alliance of Mayan and mestizo women and men, founded in 1975 by the Mexican poet Ambar Past. Among its multiple objectives we ’ ll mention the documentation, praise and dissemination of Amerindian and popular cultural values: song, literature and plastic arts; the rescue of old and endangered techniques such as the extraction of dyes from wild plants; and generating worthwhile and decently-paid employment for women and men who have no studies, no career, no future.The incantation below, byLoxa Jiménes Lópes, is the first in the collection. Also, posted next to the poem is one of their posters which are for sale on their website. Hopefully, Ambar will add a comment to describe this beautiful work and its significance.
I AM A WOMAN MY WOMAN
I am a woman, my woman.
I am a girl, my girl.
I am woman, the woman.
I am girl, the girl.
I know how to work.
My feet work.
My hands know.
I am girl my girl.
I am woman my woman.
You made me woman.
You gave me woman.
Woman of the Flowers.
Mother of the Sky.
Woman of the Roses.
Girl of the Roses.
Flowery Woman of the Roses.
Daughter of the Rose in Bloom.
You gave me woman.
You gave me girl.
You took a girl out of me.
You took a woman out of me.
Woman of the Silk Huipil.
Girl of the Silk Huipil.
Woman of the Wool Huipil.
Girl of the Wool Huipil.
I am a girl, my girl.
I am a woman, my woman.
You gave me my spirit.
You gave me my death.
You put my soul inside.
I am the Woman of the Spider Huipil.
I am the Girl of the Spider Huipil.
Woman of the Bromelia Flower.
Woman of the Kilon Flower.
The Moon is full.
The woman in bloom.
My girl, my girl.
My woman, my woman.
Put into my head,
give me in my heart
your three needles,
your three looms,
the tips of your spindles.
I am a girl, my girl.
I am a woman, my woman
—Loxa Jiménes Lópes
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
We are the woodlanders who walk in the hills gathering dry branches and deadwood from fallen trees, collecting firewood without chopping down the forest. We come down from the mountains, carrying bundles of wood, of pitchpine and split encino, for the hearths of the
Royal Cityof de Las Casas. We walk through the mist, leading our burros, selling firewood from house to house. We knock on people’s doors, offering pine needles as well, to spread on the floor, moss, flowers of bromeliads and orchids for manger scenes. San Cristobal
—from the website for Taller Leñateros
In 2002 Lee and I were lucky enough to visit
On the morning of our last day in San Cristobal a friend told us that we needed without fail to visit el Taller Leñateros (“the Woodlanders Workshop), a paper-making collective owned and operated by Tzotzil women. So we followed directions and turned down a narrow cobble-stoned street and knocked on a door. A man opened the door for us. He didn’t speak English, and his Spanish was as bad as mine. He motioned us to come inside. We found ourselves in a quiet, magically real room filled with paper art--hand-made papers, cards, large images, small images, books, all made with indigenous hands and perspective. Their remarkable story of the Leñateros is best followed on their website and facebook pages, but here I want to speak of their mother Maya earth book, the creation of their minds and hearts and hands.
We were enthralled by all that we saw and so happy to be there. Then AMBAR PAST burst into the room full of energy and joy. Yes, she knew about Cinco Puntos Press; yes, she knew this person and that person; and yes, she especially knew about The Story of Colors. She was so happy to meet us. And she wanted to show us the jewel that the Taller had produced--INCANTATIONS. The book she showed us was truly a work of art. The original is such a wonderful book, such an important book. The thick cover is hand-sculpted--the brown face of a woman, the brown face of a mother-god, the brown face of Mother Earth. And inside on thick papers were stunning poems from the Tzotzil women. Chants and prophecy and incantations and curses--words to keep the spirit alive, words to keep evil at bay, words to ward off sickness and death, words to protect children and the sacred corn, words to protect women from drunken crazy men, words of love and love-making. Magic words. Sacred words. Ancient words. And dovetailed within the book are images from these women that speak to the same place in the heart.
Over the years of living and working with the Tzotzil women, Ambar had collected these poems, transcribing them first into Tzotzil which by then she had learned. Next she translated them into Spanish and finally into English. And she contributed two important essays--one that tells the history of the book and the other that discusses the poetics of the poets and their Tzotzil culture. The New York Times, recognizing the importance of Incantations as a work of language and as a work of art, published an extensive piece on the original Incantations and Ambar. The Taller was selling the books for $200
I am a poet, and since the 1960s I have been a rabid fan of the pioneering work of Jerome Rothenberg in developing his understanding of ethno-poetics (in particular, his anthologies Shaking the Pumpkin, Technicians of the Sacred and America a Prophecy). Reading the poems and Ambar’s essay, I knew immediately the importance of the book, and I yearned for Cinco Puntos to be able of produce a trade edition of the collection. Lee was as excited about the project as I was. We wanted a book that would retain a taste of the original but would make the work accessible to poets and scholars and students and readers. It would require compromises to the original book, but Lee and Ambar worked together over several years to bring about a book that we are all proud of.
Ambar Past is a remarkable woman. She grew up, ironically enough for us, in our hometown of
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Last month, to help Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe move to its new and roomier location, a group of local authors and customers formed a book brigade that was meant "as a symbolic celebration of the store's move and the importance of books in a town that boasts the most writers per capita of any city in the U.S.," wrote writer James McGrath Morris, who organized the event. The store is owned by Dorothy Massey and her daughter Mary Wolf. Cinco Puntos wishes Dorothy and Mary and Collected Books all our best wishes. In their old store, Dorothy--who obviously knows her customers--had a whole section devoted to the many books of storyteller and Santa Fe resident Joe Hayes. We're sure she'll be selling Joe's books at the new store.
By the way, the lady first in line in the book brigade is our old friend Pat Nelson who used to be manager at the late great Living Batch Bookstore in Albuquerque. Pat is now a sales rep for Oxford University Press.
By the way, CPP cloned this photo and most of the article from the publishing industry newsletter and website SHELF AWARENESS which provides "daily enlightenment for the book trade." And indeed they do just that. Mil gracias.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Who are these people? And why for God's sake are they smiling? Good questions. First off—besides being friends of ours—they are BOOK people, they read BOOKS, they get excited about BOOKS and they sell BOOKS. This last fact is very important to Cinco Puntos because they sell OUR BOOKS. They are independent sales reps who are contracted to our distributor Consortium Book Sales and Distribution, which is headquartered in Minneapolis, MN (CBSD was purchased last year by Perseus Distribution but retains its headquarters in Minneapolis although shipping and handling is now done by PSB). Their job is to sell books to “the trade,” that is, to the independent retail bookstores whose numbers are diminishing around the country. They also sell to wholesalers and retailers that reside in their territories. Their client base, thanks to the ferocious competition from retail giants like Barnes & Noble et al and Amazon.com, is shrinking. [Note: Amazon.com, B&N, etc are "national accounts" and CBSD handles them in-house.]
Yet, these men and women fight back. They know their territories, they know their buyers, and they are the ones who plant the seeds for a book’s popularity, especially those books without national advertising campaigns and big name authors, books with niche and regional audiences. So many times books are sold by groundswell buzz, what in the current vernacular is called “viral” information. I am sure that some wiseass programmer with an understanding of the book industry could create an algorithm that extrapolates the percentage of sales to places like Amazon and B&N that sales reps like these create. It would be, I think, significant, and a pleasant surprise to the book world.
Twice a year CBSD hosts a two-day sales conference, usually in NYC, and these guys, our sales reps, are sitting at the tables to listen to the CBSD publishers. CBSD now manages sales and distribution for 108 publishers. It’s a great group of publishers—exciting and intellectually stimulating and politically in sync. A wide range of points of view. And fun. (Look at this link and you’ll see what I’m talking about.) We all bring our dog and pony shows. The rules are we have two minutes per book. TWO MINUTES! Holy perritos de Chihuahua, we’ve worked all year and more on these books, we love them, and we must explain them in two minutes. And for two days the sales reps must listen to our spiels (108 publishers, say an average of seven books per publisher, somewhere between 700 and 800 books). Making these two-minutes talks gives me the willies. It's much easier for me to get up in front of other audiences to talk about this or that or to give a poetry reading. It's strange. When it’s done, the sales reps pack up their bags and go home. They study and organize our materials, they map out a plan, and they get out on the road, calling on clients they have known for years. These guys are one of the parts of the publishing industry that the general public doesn’t know too much about, but Cinco Puntos—and other independents like us—exist in a large part because they are selling our books.
On Saturday night of Sales Conference, CBSD sponsors a party. It's always fun. Business and laughter and chisme and wine and a good buffet and a walk through NYC afterwards. Below are some photographs from the May 2009 Sales Conference—
Lee with Elaine Katzenberger, Publisher of City Lights Books. City Lights, of course, is one of the monuments to what it means to be an independent publisher. Elaine understands the history of City Lights but she is working to make its front list as significant as its backlist with all its (for)evergreen titles from Ginsberg, Kerouac, Corso and the rest of the titles from the San Francisco Renaissance. I first got to know Elaine in Las Vegas of all places at a Latin American Studies Association meeting. We watched a sad and troubling debate between George Bush and John Kerry on the tube in Sandy Taylor's room—the late great Sandy Taylor of Curbstone Press—and afterwards we wandered around Las Vegas looking for a place to eat a real meal, talk about life and family and worry about four more years of George Bush.
Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books, talking business with friends Amy Scholder, editor of Feminist Press and Elaine Katzenberger. Johnny and Akashic (based in Brooklyn) have been friends of ours ever since they signed on with CBSD, and for a number of years we have shared booth space at the annual Book Expo. It was Johnny who convinced us to make our yearly trips to Los Angeles for the L.A. Times Book Festival. His argument was that we were not only selling books and advertising Cinco Puntos (the L.A. area has become the biggest book-buying region in the country), but by being there we would become part of that intellectual landscape—writers pay attention to that. By the way, when writing about Akashic, I cannot forget to mention Johanna Ingalls who has long been a driving force behind Akashic along with Johnny. Johanna is recently married to an Irish dude. Thanks to the miracles of the internet, she still works for Akashic, but she does so from Ireland. We miss her.
Douglas Messerli, publisher of Green Integer Books. Green Integer is the successor to Douglas' Sun & Moon Press, which is from way back in the day. Douglas is one of the pioneers of independent publishing on the West Coast. I was reading Sun & Moon books long before I ever met Douglas. They were an important part of my growth as a poet and, later, as a publisher. I like the way Douglas writes ad copy. Take for instance, his description of Green Integer: "Essays, Manifestos, Statements, Speeches, Maxims, Epistles, Diaristic Jottings, Narratives, Natural histories, Poems, Plays, Performances, Ramblings, Revelations, and all such ephemera as may appear necessary to bring society into a slight tremolo of confusion and fright at least."
I feel awkward taking photographs of friends, so I quit taking photographs about then and had a glass of wine and talked. Besides my captions could last forever.