Friday, March 5, 2010

Ben Saenz on the Front Page!

(Photos by Rudy Gutierrez / El Paso Times)

The El Paso Times put a great article about Benjamin Alire Saenz on the front page of this morning's paper. Please read it soon because after two weeks the Times archives their articles. Written by Ramon Renteria, the article celebrates Ben being
named by Poets and Writers magazine as one of the world's most inspiring writers. We are of course proud of Ben, our friend and colleague. 

So--in keeping with our 25th anniversary celebration--this brings to mind another story about the history of Cinco Puntos and our friendship with Ben. Sometime around 1990, Lee and I were at Denise Chavez' and Daniel Zolinski's house in Las Cruces at a party for Arturo Islas. We were great fans of Arturo's The Rain God, a book that introduced us to the heart and soul of El Paso, and we wanted to meet him. Cinco Puntos was five years old then, struggling along like only a small independent press can struggle along. Anyway, we got to have a long and wonderful conversation with Arturo. He would die months afterward. What a beautiful and wonderful man he was, really radiant that night with wisdom and the knowledge that he was going to die soon. His Rain God is truly one of the great treasures of our literature. We still feel honored of having the opportunity to know Arturo, however briefly.

Ben was there too. We didn't know him too well at the time. He was celebrating the forthcoming publication of his first book of poems Calendar of Dust which would be followed shortly thereafter by a collection of short stories Flowers for the Broken which would go on to win the American Book Award. Both books were to be published by Broken Moon Press, a boutique press out of Seattle, WN. I use the word "boutique" pejoratively (they did beautiful books) because I was pissed. Why? Because they were wonderful books and I wished deeply that Cinco Puntos had published them. And I told Ben this, just the two of us standing in the foyer of Denise's house. I said something like, "Damnit, Ben, you're always talking about the border and its importance to you and here you are going and publishing books in Seattle, for God's sake." My anger was right there in my voice (I hope I'm a better person now). Ben looked at me for a few seconds, his mind churning at what I had said and the way I had said it. He said simply, "You're right." I've always admired him for listening to me and even agreeing with me. Right there on the spot. A very manly action, I thought. And still do. We've been very good friends ever since.

Ben's next book of poems was Dark and Perfect Angels published by--you guessed  it--Cinco Puntos Press. As we were working on that, Ben published a Christmas story in the El Paso Times, something like "Little Diego's Christmas." We read it and thought it would make a great picture book for kids. We talked to Ben and he was delighted to work with us again. Our friend Joe Hayes read it, loved it and suggested we make it a birthday story instead of a Christmas story. That way the book would be a year round book. We contracted with graphic designer and artist Geronimo Garcia (his company is Geronimo Design, one of the tops in El Paso) and A Gift from Papa Diego / Un regalo de Papa Diego was born. It's been one of our best sellers ever with well over 100,000 sold. Like all of Ben's picture books, the book has a politcal subtext, something the parents will understand but which certainly doesn't interfere with the kids simply listening to a good story. Since then we've done a number of books with Ben, all of them well received. Ben and Geronimo even teamed up again recently to create another Little Diego story, The Dog Who Loved Tortillas / La perrita que encantaban las tortillas.  

All these years now--it's been a wonderful friendship.

Mil gracias, Ben, y felicidades.


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