Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Cecilia Gonzales Abraham, 1945

Independent Publishing is always miraculous. Like that time somewhere in 2004 when the door opened at Cinco Puntos Press and, Surprise!, the Abraham sisters, Susan and Denise, brought their mother Cecilia Gonzales Abraham to visit us. We had just signed a contract with the sisters to publish a YA book starring their mother Cecilia. And here she was, walking through the front door, a spry 83 year old woman ready to talk and laugh and maybe even dance if somebody would ask. We knew immediately where her daughters received their delight in their lives, their wit, their joy and their love for their mother. It was a great experience. We spent time with Cecilia on other occasions, but that first time was very special.

The two award-winning historical novels that Susan and Denise wrote about their mother--Surprising Cecilia and Cecilia's Year--were very special too. Cecilia was born in Derry, New Mexico in 1920. Derry is that little farming community you can see, going north on I-10, just before you cross the Rio Grande below Truth or Consequences. Derry was a wonderful place to grow up, but Cecilia wanted to see the world, so she had to buck the expectations that her family and the community placed on her. She had ambition and the wonderful surprising spirit that allowed her to follow her dreams. The stories form a wonderful portrait of a young girl becoming a woman. The story of Cecilia--from beginning to end--is a true American story. A true American woman's story!

Here's the author's note that Susan and Denise wrote for back of Cecilia's Year.

Cecilia Gonzales is a real person who really did grow up on a farm in Derry, New Mexico. Cecilia’s dream was to get an education and to make a better life for herself and her family. Through determination and hard work, she was able to see this dream come true.
Cecilia graduated as salutatorian from Hatch Union High School in Hatch, New Mexico in 1938. Against her mother’s strong protestations, she left the family farm for El Paso, Texas, where she attended the International Business College. She paid her tuition and supported herself through secretarial work, including working for the well-known architects, Trost and Trost. During World War II, Cecilia worked for the Office of Alien Registration under the Department of Justice and for the Post Quartermaster at Fort Bliss, Texas. Because she was bilingual, she was hired by the U. S. Office of Censorship, where she monitored telephone calls between El Paso and Latin America during the war.
In 1944, Cecilia left El Paso for New York City to marry her husband, Anees Abraham, a native El Pasoan. He had joined the army and was stationed in Pennsylvania. They were married for 49 years. While in New York, she worked for the American Red Cross, where she met Mayor La Guardia and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
In 1964, Cecilia became one of the first employees of the Chamizal Project under the U. S. Boundary and Water Commission. She served as a hostess during the transfer of the Chamizal to Mexico where she met President Lyndon B. Johnson of the United States and President Díaz Ordaz of Mexico. In 1967, she was the first employee of the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas. She met First Ladies Rosalynn Carter of the U. S. and Sra. Carmen Romano López Portillo of Mexico during their visit in 1977. Cecilia was assigned to take inventory of the LBJ Ranch home in Johnson City, Texas, before it was donated to the National Park Service by Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. Mrs. Johnson graciously met with Cecilia and the other Park Service employees, serving them coffee and cookies.
Besides meeting two Presidents and four First Ladies and retiring after over 20 years of government service, Cecilia has traveled all over the world to places such as South America, Europe, Greece, Turkey, Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico—not bad for a young farm girl who used to sit daydreaming under a cottonwood tree.

 May Cecilia rest in peace. 

Cecilia Gonzales Abraham, 1995

Monday, July 15, 2013

George Ella Lyon's Ann Izard Storyteller's Choice Award Acceptance Speech

On May 10, 2013, George Ella Lyon's book, Which Side Are You On? The Story of a Song, received the prestigious Anne Izard Storyteller's Choice Award. All of us--George Ella, illustrator Christopher Cardinale, and the CPP folks--were overjoyed. George Ella had hoped to attend, but couldn't for a number of reasons. So she wrote this beautiful speech to be read at the event. Where Which Side Are You On? is the story of a song, her speech is the story of a book. The story of how an idea becomes a story. Many thanks to George Ella for sharing this with us. 

To all who have worked on the Anne Izard Award:

I wish so much that I could be in White Plains to thank you in person for the honor you are giving “Which Side Are You On?” The Story of a Song. I once rented a car at your airport and drove across the state to Bath in search of a nineteenth-century schoolteacher. But that was for a different book. It was even in a different century! A person will do a lot once a story gets hold of her. But you know about that.

My obsession with this story began on a Saturday in another June nine years ago.  I was doing a reading and music event at the downtown library in Lexington, Ky., with The Reel World String Band.  One of the songs was Florence Reece’s iconic anthem to workers’ rights, “Which Side Are You On?” I’d known the song for a long time—one of my early ambitions was to be a folksinger—and I knew it was written in Harlan County, where I come from. I knew it grew out of the struggle of coal miners to form a union and bargain for safer working conditions, better housing, and better pay.

What I didn’t know until Bev Futrell, the Reel World’s mandolin player, shared it in her introduction, was that Florence Reece had written the song with her kids hiding under the bed while hired killers were shooting at her house. They were out to terrorize the Reeces because Sam Reece was a union organizer.  He wasn’t even home that night, but as Omie, the book’s child narrator tells us, “If a bullet hits you, it don’t matter whose name is on it.”

I was mightily taken with this story.  And it just so happened that I was driving to Harlan that afternoon to visit my mother. I was driving by the turn for Molus, where the Reece’s mining camp had been. I was headed for my homeplace where the story happened.

I told it to my son on the drive down, to my mother after we got there, and that night I condensed it into a paragraph in my journal.  It wouldn’t stay there, though. I couldn’t stop wondering about it.

Sometime in the next week, I started writing. I don’t know if I thought it might be a book or if I was writing it in my effort to understand Florence and to quit worrying about those children. Writing happens that way sometimes.

Eventually I did a lot of reading and interviewed folks who knew Florence and Sam Reece, including their granddaughter, but everything I learned had to be tested in Omie’s voice. If the storyteller wouldn’t say it, I’d have to leave it out.

I write by ear. It’s partly because I grew up listening to parents and grandparents, neighbors and friends telling stories. They couldn’t give directions without going into local history. They didn’t want to. And it’s partly because, since I had double vision till I was thirteen and couldn’t always read directions on the board, I listened hard.  This tuned my ear to the music in how people talk.

The music in “Which Side Are You On?” is being written while people talk. The Reece kids keep asking questions, trying to understand the crazy world they’re in, and their crazy mama who is writing in the midst of it.

Now that I have some distance on the story, I understand why it had such a hold on me. It wasn’t just the connection with the place and history I come from. It wasn’t just that Bev had known Florence and heard the story from her, so it was almost close enough to touch. It wasn’t that a miner’s wife in eastern Kentucky had written a song that’s still going around the world.  It was that Florence Reece, unable to protect her children from bullets, nevertheless stood up for them with the one tool she had: writing. In making new words for an old tune, she bore witness to the exploitation of miners and their families. She might die, but she would not die silent. She would give herself and those kids a voice.

Reece would recognize the situation in our nation today where we see the 1% protecting their ferocious wealth while the 99% struggle to get by. She would want to stand with the Occupy movement, the Wisconsin teachers, and all who suffer in a society where profit matters more than people. But Florence doesn’t have to be at those protests in person. They are singing her song.

Thank you for honoring her story and for helping it find new readers.

For all our voices,
George Ella Lyon

And don't forget to listen to Ma Reece herself sing her song, written while the hired thugs were riddling her house with bullets.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Beauty is a Book Tour

The editors and poets of the acclaimed anthology Beauty is a Verb are hard at work this month, with upcoming book tour dates in New Jersey, New York and Virginia. Are you planning on attending any of these? Here's the full schedule:

Thursday, March 14
Don't Call Me Inspirational: a Literary Reading for Women's History Month
6-7:45PM  |  Hoboken Public Library
500 Park Avenue  |  Hoboken, NJ
Readings by Ona Gritz and Jennifer Bartlett, plus Harilyn Rousso will read from Don't Call Me Inspirational 

Wednesday, March 20
Virginia Festival of the Book
2PM   |  UVa Harrison Institute Auditorium
160 McCormick Road  |  Charlottesville, VA
Readings by Michael Northen & Anne Kaier

Thursday, March 28
Disabilities as Ways of Knowing: A Series of Creative Writing Conversations
7-8PM   |  Watson Theater, Syracuse University
405 University Place   |  Syracuse, NY
Readings by Laurie Clemens Lambeth, Jim Ferris & Stephen Kuusisto
8-9PM  |  Light Work, Robert B. Menschel Media Center
316 Waverly Avenue  |  Syracuse, NY
Reception and book signing

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Lee with BRLA Proclamation for Excellence in Publishing.
She couldn't be at the banquet, but she's still excited.
We thank the BRLA! 
Saturday night, February 23rd, 2013, the Border Regional Library Association invited Cinco Puntos to their annual Southwest Book Awards Banquet. The reason?! The BRLA gave us their EXCELLENCE IN PUBLISHING AWARD. And this is the 2nd one we’ve received. That’s the first time that’s happened! My gosh we were honored. And still are. ¡Muchisimas gracias a la BRLA!

Once again proving the librarians rock n’ roll.

The BRLA  is made up of wonderful librarians who go about their daily duties of promoting literacy, reading books, serving the public by answering questions, keeping books on the shelves, navigating the new world of e-technologies, lobbying politicians who just don’t understand and keeping the doors open—among their other jobs. Special thanks to Lisa Weber and Claudia Rivers who wrote and read the proclamation! It was a great evening! Good food, good talk and laughter, the celebration of wonderful books which won the annual Southwest Book Awards.

The only disappointment of the evening was that Lee couldn’t be there because she was out of town. But Susie Byrd and Ed Holland were there—both of whom worked with us six years or so beginning in 1996 until Susie became a politician and Ed a high school teacher; Johnny’s wonderful wife Ailbhe Cormack, and the irreplaceable long-time employee and close friend, Cactus Mary Fountaine. And in fact, Mary, who as a cottage industry entrepreneur makes the incredible hand-crafted and totally natural Cactus Mary’s Soap, inspired our favorite line from the Proclamation:

Whereas, the Press has supported hygiene in the borderlands by selling Cactus Mary soap at their headquarters…

But, please read the whole proclamation. It’s serious and fun at the same time.

A Resolution of the Border Regional Library Association

Whereas, the Border Regional Library Association is an organization dedicated to the promotion of libraries and literacy in the American Southwest; and

Whereas, Cinco Puntos Press has performed many acts in support of libraries and librarians since its founding in 1985; and

Whereas, the Press has brought fame and credit to the borderlands by publishing outstanding works by regional authors such as Dagoberto Gilb, Joe Somoza, Joe Hayes, and Benjamin Saenz; and

Whereas, the Press has promoted literacy by publishing outstanding children’s books in bilingual format; and

Whereas, Bobby and Lee Byrd themselves have written books of great merit; and

Whereas, Lee Byrd so dedicated herself to libraries that she even attended Library Science courses; and

Whereas, the Press has published controversial books by revolutionaries that received national press coverage and revocation of grant funding; and

Whereas, the Press has nurtured talented artists and designers by commissioning them to illustrate and design books; and

Whereas, the Press has supported hygiene in the borderlands by selling Cactus Mary soap at their headquarters; and

Whereas, representatives of the Press have braved long airline flights and international tensions to carry books from the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to far-away book fairs; and

Whereas, the Press has been the recipient of seven individual Southwest Book Awards for books they have published and one award from the Border Regional Library Association citing its  encouragement of new literary talent; and

Whereas, after twenty years since the last award for Excellence in Publishing given to the Cinco Puntos Press, it is now time to recognize its continuing record of achievement.

Now therefore be it resolved, that the membership of the Border Regional Library Association at its gathering for the Awards Banquet on this 23rd day of February, 2013 of the Common Era do hereby express our unreserved appreciation of Cinco Puntos Press, and

Grant, to Cinco Puntos Press the honor of an unprecedented second BRLA award for Excellence in Publishing.

Johnny Byrd (CFO plus many other hats) and his wife Ailbhe Cormac, Ed Holland (son-in-law and employee emeritus, 1996 to 2002, and now a thriving high school teacher of film and literature), his wife Susie Byrd (also employee-emeritus who left Cinco Puntos to become a City Representative), Cactus Mary Fountaine, and co-publisher Bobby Byrd.
Not pictured is co-publisher who was out of town.