Publishers Bobby and Lee Byrd, who launched Cinco Puntos Press from their El Paso, Texas, home in 1985, publish books that straddle the border. And they aren’t worried whether the New York publishing world’s “central government” approves or not. In 1999 they published Zapatista revolutionary Subcomandante Marcos’ illustrated folktale The Story of Colors, creating an uproar that cost them their National Endowment for the Arts grant.
Rooted in its region, this small family press mixes genres and takes risks, disregarding the rigid labels demanded by corporate bookstores. They’re currently putting together Iris Keltz’s Scrapbook of a Taos Hippie, an unconventional folk history composed of memoir, oral histories, photographs, and newspaper clippings. And they were thrilled when writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II agreed to let Cinco Puntos publish the first English translation of his novel Just Passing Through.
Originally published in 1986 by Mexican press Leega Literaria, Just Passing Through is a rollicking, genre-defying, left-wing adventure. Amid a pastiche of telegrams, police reports, and varied first-person accounts, Taibo himself becomes a character, leaping into the pages of his novel with political and philosophical musings. He travels back in time to 1920s Mexico to search for his elusive revolutionary protagonist, Spanish anarchist Sebástian San Vicente. For those north of the border, the book offers a playful glimpse into Mexican history, one very much tied to our own.
Born in Gijón, Spain, in 1949, Paco Ignacio Taibo II—or PIT II, as he is known to Mexican readers—immigrated to Mexico City at age 9. He has worked as a journalist, historian, and archivist, and as the organizer of La Semana Negra, an annual international crime fiction and film festival in Gijón. Though not yet popular in the United States, he is internationally acclaimed for his mystery series featuring detective Hector Balascorán Shayne. Larger New York presses published books from the series but passed on Just Passing Through. It doesn’t fit into neat categories. That’s why the corporate publishers didn’t take it, and Cinco Puntos did.