Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tinkers: The Book that Refused to Disappear

the book that refused to disappear

Everything is made to perish; the wonder of anything at all is that it has not already done so. No, he thought. The wonder of anything is that it was made in the first place. What persists beyond this cataclysm of making and unmaking?
Tinkers, p119-120, by Paul Harding

It’s old news--Paul Harding’s TINKERS won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Read of course the New York Times article linked above but more importantly read Pat Holt’s UNCENSORED article here for the true skinny about its publication, about its publisher Bellevue Literary Press and about how Lise Solomon, an excited independent sales representative, lit the fire of excitement about the novel.

Tinkers is a wonderful book, full of mystery about the insubstantial nature of the world in which we live. It all looks so solid, so real, but it slips away into the ether. A man, George Washington Crosby, is dying. His house that he built with his own hands and even the skies are literally collapsing in on him. He watches from the hospital bed that has been placed like a coffin in the living room of his home as all these successive worlds tumble in on his mind and heart. His wife, sister, children and grandchildren take turns witnessing the last days, hours and seconds tick away. And through his imagination he opens up his childhood to us, a childhood that witnesses the sufferings of his own father, who suffered from epilepsy, full of equal mystery and suffering. It’s a fine novel. A novella really. And it certainly deserves the Pulitzer.

But we want to reiterate and emphasize that the book was published by Bellevue Literary Press, by one of our independent publishing colleagues. And they published it in trade paperback, not cloth. The New York Times Book Review section didn’t deem it worthy of their attention until it won the Pulitzer.

Ha! The book broke all sorts of publishing rules and assumptions.

Like Cinco Puntos, Bellevue is distributed to the trade by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution. The book got to Bellevue after Harding had exhausted all of the normal big city avenues. Agents turned him down, big publishers turned him down. Probably thought the novel too old fashioned, too slow-paced--a man dying, he’s an horologist for God’s sake. Their assumption: readers these days want blood and guts, some sex and foul language, they want the novel moving along quickly. Not Bellevue. They believed in the novel. And they convinced sales representatives to believe in the novel. And one of those sales reps, Lise Solomon of Karel/Dutton on the West Coast, really began promoting it. Lise began pushing the snowball downhill. Independent bookstores caught the fever, they started making sure book buyers knew of its importance, they got it into the hands of industry people in…well, in the Big City, beneath the bright lights.

The rest is history. It’s a feel good story about the importance of independent publishing and independent bookselling in the country, the importance of these book people—readers all—who care fiercely about our literature, our culture, our intellectual life.

Monday, July 26, 2010


[Note: Oy. I wrote this and forgot to post it. It was scheduled for June 2. We put an album of photographs on our FACEBOOK page, so this entry slipped through the crack. The BIG crack. My gosh. But there's some good stuff here. Better late than never. All those old cliches.--Bobby]

We’re back home from the 2010 Book Exposition of America, and we did ourselves proud. This year’s BEA was held at the Javits Center in New York City. As has become our good habit, we share a booth with our friends at Akashic Books. We got good geography--our home base is the aisle of Consortium Book Sales and Distribution with its group of avant publishers steering the world toward a better place. Nobody talks about "product" on this aisle. It's all about books and ideas and culture and progressive politics and art. It's a good and fun place to hang out. There's always folks coming by. And besides, we share a booth with Akashic Books. If there's a slow time, which there's usually not until the last day, we get to talk and laugh with the Akashic folks--Johnny Temple, Ibrahim Ahmad and this year Ben Fama. (We do miss the wild and energetic presence of Johanna Ingalls who now does most of her Akashic duties via skype and email from here residence in Ireland.)

On Wednesday we had an afternoon party celebrating 25 years of Cinco Puntos Press books. CFO and Sales Director Johnny Byrd was the official host. In that august capacity--and in the tradition of true independent publishing--he smuggled in two cases of Tecate can of beer in his suitcase. (Finding Tecate in cans in New York City is a difficult task. Best place to go is Spanish Harlem. The place we found is a few doors west of 116th & Park.) The day of the party he smuggled in three sacks of ice in his backpack and his suitcase, with doubled garbage bags, became our cooler. John had brought cookies from Gussie’s on Piedras Street in El Paso. Writer and folklorist Cynthia Weill was there signing books from her series First Concepts in Mexican Folk Art (see Opuestos here and Abecedarios here . Her new book in the series, Colores de la Vida, will be released in the fall of this year. Artist Christopher Cardinale was there to sign copies of his and Luis Alberto Urrea’s new graphic novel Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush.  It was a great party. Lots of people and laughter and book talk and memories. The beer, which was ice cold, and the cookies, which were still fresh and crispy, were all gone in an hour. It was a great party. And the end of a very long day standing on the concrete floors of the Javits Center. Not to worry. We were having dinner with Dana Goldberg, Senior Editor of Children’s Book Press, and Janet del Mundo, Sales and Marketing Director of CBP. Dana, who grew up in NYC/Queens, led us to Casa Havana, a great Cuban restaurant on 8th Avenue just south of 20th. We ate, we talked and laughed. The next day the Cinco Puntos team was up early for the second and last day of the BEA. It's hard work, but it's fun. Book people are cool. Viva el libro!
--Bobby Byrd

David Unger, Novelist and US Rep for the Feria del Libro in Guadalajara,
and Jane Mirandette, founder of the San Juan del Sur Biblioteca Movil in Nicaragua

Independent Sales Representatives for Consortium,
Stephen Williamson and Bill Jordan.
Good guys and members of the now defunct Brothers Karamozof,
an infamous and legendary drinking society. 

Johnny Byrd, CFO of CPP; artist Christopher Cardinale,
Dana Goldberg, Senior Editor at Children's Book Press;
and Janet del Mundo, Sales and Marketing Director at Children's Book Press
at the Casa Havana after the anniversary party

Monday, July 19, 2010

Patricia Clark Smith (Valentine's Day 1943--July 11 2010

Poet, writer and activist Patricia Clark Smith and her John Crawford (Westend Press publisher)

I lifted this obituary from the Albuquerque Journal. I'm sure John wrote it, with the help of many friends and Pat's two sons, Joshua and Caleb.

Patricia (Pat) Clark Smith died peacefully at Women's Hospital in Albuquerque Sunday evening, July 11, 2010. She had been admitted four days earlier and died of successive organ failure. She was surrounded at death by her husband John Crawford; her two sons, Joshua and Caleb; members of her extended family, and her friends; She is survived by her two brothers, Mike Clark, 64, and James Clark, 61; and her two sons, Joshua Smith, 43, and Caleb Smith, 40. A memorial service will be held at the University of New Mexico chapel at 5:00 Tuesday, July 20, 2010. The public is invited to attend. Patricia was born on Valentine's Day in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1943 and lived with her mother, grandmothers, and aunts while her father was serving in the Army Air Corps. When her father returned from the service and the war ended, the family moved to Hampshire Heights, a project on the outskirts of Northampton, Massachusetts. While she was later renowned as an accomplished scholar, poet, and teacher, she always stayed close to her working-class Irish, French Canadian, and Micmac Indian roots. Her childhood friends from Hampshire Heights, whether or not they left New England, remained close to her to the end. Following the war her two brothers were born: Mike, later a sea captain, and Jim, later a musician. Patricia graduated from Deering High School in Portland, Maine in 1960. She attended Smith College as a scholarship student, graduating with a B.A. in 1964, and Yale University from 1964 to 1970, when she was awarded a Ph.D. in English. Meanwhile she married Warren Smith in 1963 and had two sons, Joshua in 1966 and Caleb in 1970. She and her husband taught at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa from 1969 to 1971. From the beginning she attracted the attention of helpful and kindly mentors. The distinguished English professor W.K. Wimsatt, his wife Margaret, and their family befriended her during the Yale years and thereafter. In 1971 her husband Warren was offered a position in the Classics Department at University of New Mexico and Pat followed, soon joining the regular English faculty. She taught English at UNM for thirty-two years, from 1971 to 2003. Early in her career at UNM she also taught at schools connected to several Navajo Indian reservations (Ramah and Sinosti) in New Mexico with a new mentor, pioneering New Mexico early childhood teacher Lenore Wolfe. In the late 1970s she and Warren Smith were divorced. She taught courses in Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman as well as American literature and creative writing. She began to expand her interests in Native American studies. One of her early Ph.D. students, Laguna Pueblo author Paula Gunn Allen, published a revised version of her doctoral dissertation as The Sacred Hoop, a groundbreaking approach to feminist studies in Native American literature, in 1986. Among Patricia's companions throughout this period were Native American writers Joy Harjo, Leslie Marmon Silko, Simon Ortiz and Luci Tapahonso. She published the first book of her own poems, Talking to the Land, in 1979. She married teacher and small press publisher John Crawford in 1987. She published her second book of poems, Changing Your Story, in 1991. She and her husband joined UNM Professors Paul Davis, David Johnson, and Gary Harrison in editing and publishing Western Literature in a World Context, a two-volume college anthology, in 1995. She also published As Long as the Rivers Flow: Stories of Nine Native Americans, with Paula Gunn Allen in 1996; On the Trail of Older Brother: Glous'gap Stories of the Micmac Indians, with Michael RunningWolf in 2000; and a younger reader's biography, Weetamoo: Heart of the Pocassets in 2003. Those who have known her deeply- and there are many-have praised Patricia's generosity, her ability to bring out the best in others, and her gift of encouragement. She has started many a young writer or scholar on his or her career. Her advocacy for women scholars, multicultural writers, and especially Native American students has moved the teaching profession powerfully in this region. She has also befriended many people she recognizes as her own kind-waitresses, nurses in hospitals, receptionists, clerks in stores. Arrangements are being made for gifts to be donated to Native American educational funds.

She was a good lady, a wise lady. May she rest in peace.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Patricia Clark Smith

Our friend poet and writer Patricia Clark Smith has died. She was a wise and joyous woman, a passionate and fierce and happy woman. An activist, a feminist and a true American citizen (in the old and very heroic sense) with roots in Native America, Pat made her indelible mark in our world of letters and in our hearts. Pat was a small woman and when she would see me she would hug me like a she-bear, burying her head in my chest, her eyes twinkling. Yes, her eyes twinkled. And when the discussion turned serious, she'd turn her eyes downward, her face scrunched up, her mind and heart working away fiercely so she could make her statements rightly and with passion. For many years now Pat has been married to our friend John Crawford, the publisher of Westend Press, a old-fashioned and very independent publishing company who has specialized in publishing the poetry of women of color. John, a true pioneer in the small press publishing explosion of the 70s, has been a mentor to Lee and me at Cinco Puntos, a good and generous teacher. I've spent a while this morning googling Pat and her work, but sadly there's not a lot of her poetry and short fiction out there right now. I did find the poem below from her book Changing Your Story from Westend, and I found "The Fatness of It," this nice and open-hearted memoir essay from the Weber Series on the Contemporary West.   

Lee and I will miss Pat greatly.
--Bobby Byrd

from the poem "Blueberry Hill"
for Dennis Jones

And now this morning the story long distance:
you dropping incredibly dead
with Beth your true love by your side
high on some Norwegian mountain,
a blueberry meadow
where they don’t pick blueberries one by one,
drop them plink plank plunk down into a pail
the way Yankees do; oh no,
those Norwegians break off whole twig-ends,
slurp them deliciously through their mouths
and swallow great dusky clouds of berries.
This impressed you,
you, always a man easily thrilled.  Dennis,

you are part of me still,
and I imagine how it was,
you sort of dancing, your arms flung wide,
gold fillings glinting in alpine sun
and crying out just before you died,
how can we be glad enough
for such abundance?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Benjamin Saenz on PBS NewsHour

The PBS NewsHour interviewed Ben Saenz, talking about the US/Mexico Border, and in particular the tragic violence in our sister city Juárez. He reads three moving poems from his new book of poems The Book of What Remains just recently released from Copper Canyon Press. Good job, Ben. This is the type of attention we need here on the border--some compassion, some heart.

Note: If you have trouble seeing or connecting to the PBS NewsHour video below, please go to this link here.