By Sergio Troncoso
El Paso’s independent publishing house Cinco Puntos Press celebrates its 35th anniversary this year as a creative enterprise focused on social justice and giving voice to stories from and about the United States-Mexico border. Founded in 1985 by poet Bobby Byrd and fiction writer Lee Byrd, the press started modestly in their home and grew through fits and starts to a storefront on Texas Avenue and wide praise and many awards that have gained the respect of the publishing world.
In 2019, their son John Byrd became president and chief financial officer and Bobby became publisher emeritus. So even amid the COVID-19 pandemic and these challenging times when readers and authors can’t easily interact at conferences or attend bookstore readings, the stage is set for the Cinco Puntos Press of the future.
Last year I published a book with them for the first time, “A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son,” and my next novel will also be a Cinco Puntos book. Why? As an author, I have long admired their commitment to El Paso and social justice. I knew they would know the border and would understand the immigrant stories I wanted to publish.
My experience with them has been like coming home as a writer: Lee is a first-class editor with an uncanny attention to detail, and Jessica Powers, their “vice president of imagination,” has been the best editor and reader I have ever had. When I want to have an hours-long conversation about character, a complex plot, El Paso, and the literary history of the border, these are people I trust and listen to and appreciate for their expertise and friendship. I would never have gotten that kind of attention from a New York publishing house.
Many other authors have agreed with me. Joe Hayes published his bestselling “La Llorona: The Weeping Woman,” which kept Cinco Puntos Press afloat in the early years. Others followed: Luis Alberto Urrea, Elena Poniatowska, Rudolfo Anaya, Isabel Quintero, David Romo, J.L. Powers, Lisa Sandlin, Marcie Rendon, Xavier Garza, David Bowles, Philip Connors, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Sylvia Zéleny, Xelena González, and many others. The list is long and distinguished.
Cinco Puntos Press as a publisher has also won the American Book Award, a prestigious Lannan Foundation fellowship, and many publishing grants from the National Endowment for Arts and the Texas Commission for the Arts. They’ve even been inducted into the Latino Literary Hall of Fame. In 2017, I was thrilled to see Bobby and Lee both inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters as publishers but also as writers. They deserve these accolades, and more.
The Byrds’ commitment to El Paso and the border is exemplified by the 2000 visit from Rudolfo Anaya, the father of Chicano literature who recently passed away. Anaya came for an event for his book “Elegy on the Death of César Chávez.” At El Centro de los Trabajadores Agrícolas Fronteriezos next to the El Paso Street bridge, Anaya spoke to a crowd of 400 eager to listen to his words. As Bobby Byrd recently wrote, “It was an occasion when Lee and I felt like we were truly home in El Paso on the U.S./Mexico Border. And we felt we were publishing books that mattered.”
The city of El Paso has an important independent publisher on Texas Avenue that truly matters. For 35 years, Cinco Puntos Press has brought to print the voices of the border, the stories of El Paso and Juárez, and the literary perspectives often ignored by many in the publishing world. They craft these voices, stories, and perspectives into great books. Support this hometown publisher, buy the heck out of their books, and help take them into the future for the next 35 years.
Sergio Troncoso is most recently the author of “A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son” and the forthcoming novel, “Nobody’s Pilgrims,” both from Cinco Puntos Press. A native of Ysleta, he is a resident faculty member of the Yale Writers’ Workshop and president of the Texas Institute of Letters. Please visit his website at www.SergioTroncoso.com.