Curbstone Marks 25th Year With Hispanic Lit Prize
Judith Rosen -- 1/22/01

To mark its first quarter century, nonprofit literary publisher Curbstone Press has established the Miguel Mármol Prize. Named for the legendary Salvadoran labor union leader, this annual prize will enable a Latina or Latino writer to publish a first novel written in English with Curbstone. The prize, which will be judged by Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street, carries a monetary award of $1,000. The winner will be announced in March, and the book will be published in spring 2002.

Curbstone specializes in literature that promotes human rights and intercultural understanding, so thinking globally is nothing new to the Willimantic, Conn., publisher. Since its founding in 1975, almost three-quarters of the books that Curbstone has published have been translations of works from Latin America, Vietnam, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe. Its credo--"P try like bread is for everyone"--comes from Salvadoran p t Roque Dalton's p m, which is included in its bestselling p try anthology, P try Like Bread. As part of Curbstone's 25th anniversary celebration, the press has issued an expanded edition of the anthology, which cofounder Alex Taylor described as "the perfect book of p try for those who think they don't like p try."

Since the publication of its collection of writings about Vietnam, The Other Side of Heaven, five years ago, Curbstone has developed a strong list of books on southeast Asia. In September, it published the paperback edition of Wayne Karlin's novel Prisoners, which shared the Paterson Prize for Fiction. In November, it released Ma Van Khang's Against the Flood, translated by Phan Than Hao and Karlin, which caused a sensation in Vietnam last year because of its descriptions of sex and politics in contemporary Vietnamese society.

Curbstone titles are distributed to the trade by Consortium. But despite increased visibility (including more author tours and academic colloquia), the press continues to be "a well-kept secret," said Taylor. It relies on course adoptions for almost one-third of its sales. "Even though some of our writers are internationally known, they're almost like first-time authors in the United States," Taylor said. But he notes that "part of the function of Curbstone is to serve as a ladder into the mainstream. We'd like to be known as the publisher who published an author before they go on to Norton or Simon."

Curbstone's fall/winter list includes the English translation of this year's winner of Latin America's prestigious Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize for the best work of fiction written by a woman, Tierra del Fuego by Sylvia Iparraguirre (translated by Hardie St. Martin). In February, Curbstone will publish In the South Bronx of America, with photographs by Mel Rosenthal and an introduction by eminent short fiction writer and social activist Grace Paley.