El Paso’s Cinco Puntos Press, which began as a home-based business in 1985 and became one of the nation’s most influential independent book publishers, is being sold, co-owners Bobby and Lee Byrd announced on Monday.
Cinco Puntos is being sold to Lee & Low Books, a New York-based publisher that specializes in multicultural children’s books. Terms of the sale weren’t disclosed, though both parties said Lee and Low will continue to print Cinco Puntos’ catalogue of books and seek to publish diverse authors — Latino, fronterizos, LGBTQ+ and others — who have been the hallmark of the El Paso-based company.
“We are extremely cognizant of the overall number of diverse books in the marketplace. It is critical that a collection of strong diverse books like the ones that Cinco Puntos Press has published remain in print,” said Jason Low, Lee & Low’s publisher. “In this way, we will not only preserve the Byrd legacy but continue to expand the audience of readers who will enjoy and be moved by these wonderful stories.”
The Cinco Puntos name will live on as a Lee & Low imprint. The building at 701 Texas Ave. that has been Cinco Puntos’ headquarters since 2001 is currently on the market, listed for $450,000.
The Byrds said they had explored selling Cinco Puntos for a decade and decided the time was right.
“I find myself really tired. I don’t want to sit around and dream about another book and pitching it to somebody,” said Lee Byrd, who is 76. Bobby Byrd is 78.
Bobby and Lee Byrd started Cinco Puntos Press out of their home in Central El Paso’s Five Points neighborhood in 1985. They both have been respected writers, Bobby as a poet and Lee as a novelist. Two of their three children, John and Susie Byrd, have worked at the business over the years, as has their son-in-law, Eddie Holland.
Bill Clark, the owner of Literarity Book Shop in West El Paso, said Cinco Puntos Press has played a major role in elevating diverse and multicultural authors throughout the United States.
“They’ve brought attention to El Paso and the border and to multicultural books in ways that it’s hard for people to appreciate,” Clark said.
In 2013, a book published by Cinco Puntos Press won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, one of the most prestigious U.S. literature honors. El Paso author Benjamin Alire Sáenz won the award for his short-story collection, “Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club.” He was the first Mexican American to win the award, whose previous winners include literary giants Sherman Alexie, Philip Roth, E.L. Doctorow, Ha Jin, John Updike and Annie Proulx.
“If I had published “The Kentucky Club” at a big publisher’s house, it would not have won the PEN/Faulkner, because it would not even have been nominated. Because they have bigger writers that they were going to nominate their books for, and not mine,” said Sáenz, who has published poetry, novels, children’s books and young adult literature with Cinco Puntos.”
“They have truly been a remarkable trailblazer in the field of multicultural literature, particularly the literature of the border and border writers. And they have contributed to our literarity community and we should all be immensely grateful to them,” he said of Bobby and Lee Byrd.
Cinco Puntos Press has published other significant books, including “The Story of Colors/La Historia de los Colores,” a 1999 children’s book by Subcomandante Marcos, who led an indigenous uprising in the Mexican state of Chiapas in the 1990s.
The National Endowment for the Arts had agreed to provide a $7,500 grant to Cinco Puntos to publish the book, but revoked the money after a reporter called to ask about the grant, fearing reaction from Mexican officials and others. After controversy ensued over the NEA’s cancelation decision, the Lannan Foundation provided Cinco Puntos with a grant that allowed them to continue publishing the book.
Bobby Byrd cites David Romo’s “Ringside Seat to a Revolution” as one of Cinco Puntos’ most important books. The book tells the story of how Ciudad Juárez and El Paso served as the intellectual inspiration for the Mexican Revolution in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“All my kids went to school here and none of the teachers talked to them about the revolution that took place right across the border. The history of El Paso was essentially lily white,” Bobby Byrd said.
Romo’s book in 2005 explored the pivotal role that El Pasoans and Juarenses — especially Mexicans and Mexican Americans — played in one of the 20th century’s pivotal events.
“Kids are still coming up to us and telling us thank you for giving us back our stories, because nobody had ever heard of this. It’s really part of a lot of attention to our community also, but also to the real essence of what El Paso is, I think,” Bobby Byrd said.
The Byrds demurred when asked to name their favorite among the 150 books that Cinco Puntos has published.
“When our kids were growing up, they would each ask me, who was my favorite kid. I’d always say, well you are. And that’s how I feel about books,” Bobby Byrd said.
Cover photo: Lee and Bobby Byrd outside the offices of Cinco Puntos Press, the publishing house that they founded in 1985. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)
Disclosure: Benjamin Alire Sáenz and Bill Clark are financial supporters of El Paso Matters, and Clark is a member of the organization’s board of directors.