photo from Facebook


Texas poet Bobby Byrd, co-founder of Cinco Puntos Press, died July 11 at his home in El Paso. He was 80 and had retired from book publishing in 2021.

Survivors include his wife, Lee Merrill Byrd, and three children, Susie Byrd, Johnny Byrd, and Andy Byrd.

Internationally prominent as a supporter of U.S.-Mexico border literature, Bobby Byrd started Cinco Puntos Press with his wife Lee in El Paso in 1985. Cinco Puntos “became a countercultural force, focusing on the underrepresented authors of the border,” according to Publishers Weekly. The Byrds, writers themselves, published more than 300 titles that included novels, young adult books, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction over a 36-year run before selling Cinco Puntos to another multicultural publishing company, New York-based Lee & Low Books, last year.

Bobby Byrd, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, moved to El Paso with his wife and young family in 1978. Their independent press initially was a home-based enterprise, and their goals went beyond financial survival, Byrd told the Texas Tribune three years ago. They wanted to reflect “a sensibility of border life,” he said.

The Byrds’ third book, La Llorona, a bilingual story book by Joe Hayes, has now sold more than 600,000 copies. The list of other authors with books published by the Byrds is long, and many have won awards and moved on to larger publishing houses. Some of the names range from Benjamin Alire Sáenz, whose book of short stories, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, won the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, to Sergio Troncoso, whose 2019 collection of short stories, A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son, received acclaim from the Texas Institute of Letters and the International Latino Book Awards. Beto O’Rourke and the late Gary Cartwright also had books published by Cinco Puntos.

Bobby Byrd’s poetry collections include On the Transmigration of Souls in El Paso and Otherwise, My Life is Ordinary, plus several others.

Bobby and Lee Merrill Byrd stirred up international controversy in 1999 and hit the front page of the New York Times after they published The Story of Colors/La Historia de los Colores, a bilingual edition of a 1996 children’s book written by Subcomandante Marcos, the leader of an indigenous uprising in the Mexican state of Chiapas.  The National Endowment for the Arts pulled its grant to publish the book, fearing controversy after journalists began asking questions about the author. But another organization, the Lannan Foundation, quickly stepped in with a new and larger grant, and the book’s first printing sold out quickly.

Afterward, Bobby Byrd stated: “It was a strange media frenzy, a true boon to Cinco Puntos. But real ideas and issues got lost in that frenzy, the most important of which is the indigenous struggle for autonomy and land in Chiapas.”

Cinco Puntos is now a Lee & Low imprint that publishes “picture books, middle grade, young adult, and books for adults that feature a wide range of diverse cultures,” the company states on its website.

Several tributes to Bobby Byrd have recently been posted on Lee & Low’s blog, including these comments from writer Cynthia Weill: “Bobby had a wide lens when it came to publishing. He was willing to step out of the mainstream. He could see the value in manuscripts that 25 years ago no one else could. He was willing to take risks and ended up giving a voice to authors and illustrators that had been traditionally marginalized. He was ahead of his time. Que descanse en paz querido amigo.” (“May you rest in peace, dear friend.”)

Funeral arrangements were still pending at this writing.