Bobby Byrd, cofounder and publisher of Cinco Puntos Press in El Paso, Tex., has died. He was 80. The publisher and poet retired last year, as he and his wife, Lee Merrill Byrd, sold their publishing house to Lee & Low Books. The publishing house was established in 1985 and became a countercultural force, focusing on the underrepresented authors of the border.
Byrd was born in Memphis and lost his father in a plane crash when he was seven years old. He was an academic and a poet prior to turning to publishing.
Byrd was especially proud of having published La Llorona/The Weeping Woman by Joe Hayes, which helped give the company an identity in the market. “It was a favorite story that every Mexican and Mexican American kid grew up hearing. Joe insisted that it be bilingual and that’s when we entered the world of children’s bilingual books. We hit the wave of a Mexican diaspora that spread from the border throughout the entire country.” The title has sold more than 500,000 copies in several formats.
Other titles published by the company included The Story of Colors, by Chiapas revolutionary Subcomandante Marcos; Selavi, That Is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope, written and illustrated by Youme; Pitch Black: Don’t Be Skerd, also by Youme; Vatos, written by Luis Alberto Urrea with photographs by José Galvez; Sammy & Juliana by Benjamin Alire Sáenz; and Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. Among the hundreds of authors published by Byrd included Dagoberto Gilb, Rudolfo Anaya, and the poet Joseph Somoza.
Byrd worked closely with his family, including his wife Lee and son Johnny. After selling his company, Byrd told PW, “When we started out, I read a how-to book about publishing. We didn’t know anything, so we just did what we wanted to and what we found really interesting. Today, when people ask us for advice about starting an independent publishing company, the first word out of my mouth is, ‘Don’t!’ But if you do, especially if you’re in an out-of-the-way place like El Paso, I tell them to learn all they can about the publishing industry first. Have good friends and have some money in the bank. Maybe a second income. Remember, it’s a turkey shoot. The fact is that publishing is already a strange and precarious industry, and it is only getting stranger and more precarious, especially for the smaller companies.”
He added, “We would do it all over again. It was a miraculous journey filled with great friends and wonderful manuscripts that opened up our imagination and our hearts with a new understanding of this place—this planet—where we all live.”
Among his own books are White Panties, Dead Friends & Other Bits & Pieces of Love (2006) and Otherwise My Life is Ordinary (2014). He is survived by his wife and three children.
In one of his final published poems, Byrd wrote:
A Poem for my 79th Birthday
when it’s over
scatter my ashes
in the Milky Way.