El Paso, TX. West Texas. Mountain Time. Desert. Borders.
The 915 is El Paso’s area code, and also how young natives refer to their city after singer Khalid popularized it in his song, “American Teen.” El Paso is the sixth largest city in Texas, which many don’t know because it’s over 552 miles away from the other large cities in the state. With this geographical isolation and distance, El Paso harnesses a unique culture, encompassing both the cozy small town feel while also promoting it’s progressive urban environment. El Paso is also a proud border town, sharing its border with New Mexico and Mexico, which houses a diverse population of Latinx peoples, among other immigrants from around the world. From this powerful culture, El Paso has given us such important art, specifically literary art.
Our intern Paulina, a native El Pasoan, is proud to present a two-part tour of on El Paso’s literary community: first, featuring Cinco Puntos Press.
Cinco Puntos Press is a small, independent publishing company about three miles from the U.S. – Mexican border, founded in 1985 by Bobby and Lee Byrd. When I visited them, I was immediately immersed into the colors of their office. Everywhere I turned, I saw their published books displayed among other distinctly El Pasoan decorations.
One of Cinco Puntos’ first published books in 1987 was Joe Hayes’ La Llorona / The Weeping Woman. Bobby Byrd still regards this work as one of their best, mainly because he felt that Cinco Puntos Press did something that no other publishing firm had before. Cinco Puntos credits their familiarity with Mexican culture as one of the main reasons that La Llorona did so well across the country because the novel felt authentic to its cultural roots. La Llorona is also bilingual, which definitely reflects our border town lifestyle.
But why, I asked, is this publishing press in El Paso? Why is it not in New York City like the majority of the industry? To this Bobby responded, “because this is where we live.” Being in El Paso offers a unique community and the ability to see hands-on how people from all walks of life are able to thrive in such a bi-national community. For a unique city, we need an exceptional publishing press, a press that is willing to offer a space for its authors to work hands-on with them.
Philip Connors, author of the soon to be released memoir, A Song for the River, was present during my visit, and spoke about how he loved that he was able to come into Cinco Puntos and literally sit down with the staff and work alongside them as he revised his manuscript. Although not a native El Pasoan, Connors was drawn to Cinco Puntos because of how well they published Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club.
As I walked around the office, I was happy to notice that many of the authors were Latinx, like me. What’s the importance of a diverse range of books? Why does Cinco Puntos value diversity in their literature? “Well, that’s where we live,” Bobby responded to this with a smile. Unlike many publishing companies, Cinco Puntos does not need to go out of their area and look for a diverse authorship because El Paso already cultivates such a diverse community. Bobby emphasized how Mexican Americans make up such a large percentage of the U.S. population, and how it’s not a niche market, so why wouldn’t Cinco Puntos Press be publishing books by and for Mexican Americans? In these moments during my visit I felt so proud that this publishing press has been doing so much not just for my El Paso community, but also for immigrants like myself that have such powerful stories just by living on the border.
Cinco Puntos also prides itself of commissioning local El Pasoan artists to design book covers, such as David Bowles’ Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky. This artist duo Los Dos (or Lxs Dos) are El Paso/Juarez natives that make murals in both of the sister cities.
Cinco Puntos Press is distributed by Consortium Books, so it’s easy to come by their works at several bookstores in Texas. Here are some recommendations from both Bobby and myself:
Publisher’s Description: “The Gila River and Wilderness are the heart and soul of A Song for the River. Every summer since 2002, Connors has been perched in a tower 50 feet above the Gila Wilderness, watching for fire. His first book, Fire Season (which saw 30,000 copies sold), recounted the deep lessons learned about mountains, wilderness, fire, and solitude. A Song for the River, its sequel, updates and deepens the story: the mountain he loves goes up in flames; a lookout on another mountain whom he has come to love as brother dies in a freak accident; and three high school students he admires die tragically in an airplane crash while researching the wilderness and the wild river they wish to save. Connors channels their voices in a praise song of great urgency and makes a plea to save a vital piece of our natural and cultural heritage: the wild Gila River, whose waters are threatened by a potential dam.”
Publisher’s Description: “The stories in Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky trace the history of the world from its beginnings in the dreams of the dual god Ometeotl, to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico and the fall of the great city Tenochtitlan. In the course of that history we learn about the Creator Twins, Feathered Serpent, and Dark Heart of Sky, and how they built the world on a leviathan’s back; of the shape-shifting nahualli; and the aluxes—elfish beings known to help out the occasional wanderer. And finally, we read Aztec tales about the arrival of the blonde strangers from across the sea, the strangers who seek to upend the rule of Motecuhzoma and destroy the very stories we are reading.
David Bowles stitches together the fragmented mythology of pre-Colombian Mexico into an exciting, unified narrative in the tradition of William Buck’s Ramayana, Robert Fagles’ Iliad, and Neil Gaiman’s Norse Myths. Readers of Norse and Greek mythologies will delight in this rich retelling of stories less explored.”
Publisher’s Description: “Grandpa says circles are all around us. He points to the rainbow that rises high in the sky after a thundercloud has come. “Can you see? That’s only half of the circle. That rest of it is down below, in the earth.” He and his granddaughter meditate on gardens and seeds, on circles seen and unseen, inside and outside us, on where our bodies come from and where they return to. They share and create family traditions in this stunning exploration of the cycles of life and nature.
Xelena González has roots in San Antonio, Texas, but has stretched her wings to fly all the way to Guangzhou, China, where she works as a librarian in an international school. She studied journalism at Northwestern University and library science at Texas Woman’s University, but her true training as a storyteller has come from getting to know other living beings—including plants, animals, and people who happen to speak different languages or see the world in unusual ways. All Around Us is her first book.
Adriana M Garcia, an award-winning artist, muralist, and scenic designer was born and raised on the west-side of San Antonio. She received her BFA From Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and studied fine arts in Valencia, Spain. ”
Publisher’s Description: “Against a 1970s backdrop of Vietnam, political corruption, and radical activism, comes the true story of a loose confederacy of thrill-seeking opportunists and disaffected veterans who pulled off the largest, most audacious pot smuggle yet attempted—over twenty-eight tons of primo Colombian headed for the densely populated coast of Massachusetts in a rusty shrimp boat at the height of hurricane season. From the borderland of El Paso to the High Sierra of Mexico to the coast of South America and back, this is how they parlayed their first puff into truckloads, planeloads, and ultimately, the mother lode. Folly Cove is a high-spirited tale of the early days, when the business of pot was a benign crusade to keep America high. “