Thursday, January 28, 2010

HOWARD ZINN (August 24, 1922 – January 27, 2010)

Howard Zinn
(portrait from Identity Theory website 
where you will find interviews and articles about Zinn)

Historian Howard Zinn died yesterday. Zinn is most well-known for his classic A People's History of the United States of America, which documents the grassroots activism and its heroes that have always moved this country forward. His writing has been a touchstone for our understanding of publishing as it has for so many of our colleagues in the independent publishing world. But Zinn was much more than his scholarship. He was a speaker who moved people to contribute to their own history through activism and he was, of course, an activist himself. We here at Cinco Puntos learned about Zinn's death through our friend, the sports writer and sports historian David Zirin who counted Zinn as a hero, mentor and friend. You can read David's article here on the Nation website. As David says of Zinn's books, "It was history writ by Robin Hood, speaking to a desire so many share: to actually make history instead of being history's victim."

From the Wikipedia article linked to above, I was especially moved by the description of Zinn's service as a bombardier during the 2nd World War:
Zinn eagerly joined the Army Air Force during World War II to fight fascism, and he bombed targets in Berlin, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Zinn's later anti-war stance was, in part, informed by his own experiences in the military. In April, 1945, he participated in one of the first military uses of napalm, which took place in Royan, France.

The bombings were aimed at German soldiers who were, in Zinn's words, hiding and waiting out the closing days of the war. The attacks killed not only the German soldiers but also French civilians, facts Zinn uncovered nine years after the bombings when he visited Royan to examine documents and interview residents. In his books, The Politics of History and The Zinn Reader, he described how the bombing was ordered at the war's end by decision-makers most probably motivated by the desire for career advancement rather than for legitimate military objectives.

Zinn said his experience as a bombardier, combined with his research into the reasons for and effects of the bombing of Royan, sensitized him to the ethical dilemmas faced by G.I.s during wartime. Zinn questioned the justifications for military operations inflicting civilian casualties in the Allied bombing of cities such as Dresden, Royan, Tokyo, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, Hanoi during the U.S. war in Vietnam, and Baghdad during the U.S. war in Iraq. In his pamphlet "Hiroshima: Breaking the Silence", Zinn laid out the case against targeting civilians.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Poets and Writers Magazine has named Benjamin Alire Sáenz as one of The 50 Most Inspiring Writers in the World. My gosh, we thought he was just Ben. "His novels contain heartbreakingly honest and unsentimental portraits of people struggling with such traumas as alcoholism and sexual molestation," says P&W. Of course, being biased, we think that description sounds a lot like Last Night I Sang to the Monster. Cinco Puntos will be celebrating Ben's novel and all of our new titles weekend after next at the ALA-Midwinter Conference in Boston. Come by and see us at booth number 1331.

At the link below listen to this great podcast of Heidi Estrin of the Book of Life interviewing YA novelist Eve Tal at the annual Jewish Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in NYC. It's a great interview. Eve's interview begins at the 4:40 mark but I suggest listening to the whole thing. It's very interesting. As reported in an earlier post, Eve traveled to the U.S. from her kibbutz in Israel to celebrate her new novel CURSING COLUMBUS. The novel is about growing up as a Jewish immigrant in the Lower East Side of NYC in the early part of last century. She also spoke at the ALAN Strand of the National Conference of Teachers of English and her speech is here.

Monday, January 4, 2010


"I’m part of the story, it’s my story now and it goes on and on and on."
--Susan Klahr

Artist Susan Klahr died New Year’s morning. For the last several years, she had been struggling with cancer, and finally the disease asked her to cross to the other side. She is survived by her husband David and her two sons Sito and Arlo.

Susan has long been an important force within the intellectual and artistic community that makes El Paso/Juárez unique along the U.S./Mexico Border and in the United States. Her art spoke of the world she witnessed before her, especially the people that populated her imagination, people who in Susan's paintings radiate a spiritual presence. A few years ago Lee and I asked Susan, because of her own Jewish immigrant heritage, to paint the cover image for the YA novel Double-Crossing by Eve Tal that Cinco Puntos was publishing. (Last year, during her illness, she painted the cover for its sequel, Cursing Columbus.) During our conversations about the novel, we expressed our admiration for the two paintings I’ve pasted above, Celia and Rose. [Excuse the poor snapshot quality of the images. I took the photographs this morning inside the office with my little Nikon.] One day she showed up with the paintings and asked us to hang them in our office. She wanted people to see them, she didn’t want to roll them up and put them in storage. They’ve been on loan to us ever since.

The paintings are really one piece--Celia is Susan’s grandmother, who died shortly before Susan was born, and Rose is her mother. Rose died when Susan was 14. Susan painted black and white death masks of her grandmother and mother from old snapshots, she then dressed herself in their clothes and was photographed holding the masks in front of her face. Then she painted portraits of herself as her grandmother Celia and her mother Rose. We’ve been lucky here in the offices at Cinco Puntos to see these paintings everyday and to tell admiring visitors about them. Her illness and now her death made these paintings even more poignant and powerful, revealing how our presence continues to live in our families and in the work that we do.

Below, beneath the close-ups of Celia and Rose, are the inscriptions that Susan wrapped in the blue border around each of the paintings. And below those is the story of her grandfather Max and grandmother Celia that Susan wrote for the display of the paintings.

I never saw her.
The one of five sisters.
The one that Max picked.
The mother of Rose.

It's a painting of my mother.
How I never saw her.
She's in my body
and I was in her body.


Whenever I think about telling a story, I think about Max. Max was my grandfather and he had one of the two bedrooms in our apartment and he had a big steamer trunk in there. When he opened the trunk for me it was like magic. It was like this… Once upon a time there was a strong young man named Max and he lived in Chernobyl, near Kiev, in the Ukraine. He called it Russia and he had brothers and sisters, and the youngest sister, in the photo he always showed me, so many years later, looked out at me across time, across the ocean with eyes so large, so luminous (like my son Arlo’s) and hair so black, I wished I could have known her but Max came by himself with his trunk; he braved the unknown alone. He was young, 17 or 18. He made his way across Europe to England or Scotland, speaking not a word but Yiddish, and got on a freighter or a steamer or something and his cousin Joe met him in Philadelphia and gave him a banana and he started eating it with the skin on and what a joke! You greenhorn! Laughed his cousin and Max loved to tell it over and over. He went all the way back a year or so after and came back to America and that was the very last he ever saw any of his family again.

In Chernobyl, Max’s father was the town butcher. I would see them in my mind wandering over hill and green fields, going to neighboring towns to do business. Back there was green and wintry snow and the old life and here (he loved America) was opportunity and no pogroms. Everything was Yiddish, he didn’t need English to make good--leave that to his children. And he was strong and handsome and tall. His shoes were size thirteen and he worked hard. He was young and he worked in a butcher store in New York and upstairs from the store lived a mother with five daughters and this mother came from the old country by herself with her five daughters and she was tough and she was strong and nobody seemed to know how many husbands she had and what happened to them. Her daughters all looked different and she lived to at least one hundred years old and she was my mother’s grandma and she was bubbe to me.

But Max was handsome and he visited upstairs and they would giggle and talk and there were five girls: Celia, Clara, Fanny, Esther and Becky. Clara was the oldest. When I knew her she was a big, square woman with legs that looked like tree stumps to me. Fanny I never knew. In the pictures, she looked thoughtful, exotic. Becky never married. She was fussy and critical, the corners of her mouth turned down. Esther looked like a shiksa. We thought she was pretty. Not dark and mysterious and beautiful like Celia but she was pretty and she put rouge on her cheeks and she was always smiling and kind and generous.

One day the Mother looked at robust Max and put her hands on her hips and said “enough! Which one do you mean?” And Max picked Celia, the most beautiful of her sisters. And she had deep eyes and dark hair and a delicate face and he courted her. So he married Celia and he worked hard and he opened his own butcher shop in the Bronx and he had his picture taken behind the counter and he’s big and strong and proud. In America. And Max and Celia had a daughter and they named her Rose. Rose, an American name for an American girl. Rochel was her Jewish name.

Rose was my mother and this story goes on and on and on. Celia died shortly before I was born and Rose died when I was fourteen years old. I lived with three men, my father, my brother, and my grandfather. It was amazing for me to put on the faces of Celia and Rose: to feel them in my very being. I’m part of the story, it’s my story now and it goes on and on and on.

--Susan Klahr