On March 14, 2019, Arte Público Press (APP) received the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandroff Lifetime Achievement Award in New York City. This is the transcript of the introductory speech by author, Sergio Troncoso.
Arte Público Press has taken up as their difficult task to make a community visible that has been, relatively speaking, invisible, certainly at many of the expensive offices of the publishing world in New York. Arte Público is—as you know—the oldest and largest publisher of Latino literature in the United States. Since Dr. Nicolás Kanellos founded Arte Público in Houston in 1979, what has mattered is that the struggle to create relevant, high-quality work by Latino authors and for the Latino community is now more important than ever.
With about thirty books published every year, Arte Público is at once creating the future as well as preserving the past. For example, the press has focused on linking to schools to recognize Latino literary creativity: it is the largest licensor of literary materials to textbooks in the United States for the Hispanic market, and its imprint, Piñata Books, focuses on literature for children and young adults. Arte Público also conducts the largest program to recover all documents and books written by Latinos from the 16th Century to 1960, with the project “Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage.”
You want the largest minority in the United States to read? Well, you better start focusing on writers who know the many variations of the Latino community and you need to start publishing and promoting these writers. Arte Público has been doing that for decades.
You want to get majority audiences to consider ‘Latino literature’ as quintessentially ‘American literature,’ the literature of the outsider and of immigrants, the literature of multilingual communities, the literature of civil rights and of finding a home in a strange new world? Well, you better start reaching into schools and communities so that the stereotypes of what people think about the United States-Mexico border, for example—in Fargo, North Dakota or on Manhattan’s Upper East Side—are upended by great books that encourage you to think, encourage to consider these new, often young communities as groups of Americans trying to make it here just as your ancestors once did. Yes, Arte Público has been in the empathy business fighting for Latinos before most of us in this room became writers.
Pat Mora, Luis Valdez, Manuel Ramos, Nicholasa Mohr, Miguel Piñero, Américo Paredes, Sandra Cisneros, Graciela Limón, Luis Leal, Nina Jaffe, Rolando Hinojosa, Lyn Di Iorio, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Diane Gonzales Bertrand, Miguel Algarín, and so many more Arte Público authors have sold tens of thousands of books and won hundreds of awards. Arte Público has been introducing, creating, and expanding this Latino literary landscape for all of us.
My own experience with Arte Público is that Director Nicolás Kanellos is a committed scholar of all things Latino, an advocate for his authors, and a tough negotiator. I actually enjoyed the give-and-take with Nick, who is the heart and soul of Arte Público. Yes, the warm and fuzzy feelings of finding a home for my book of essays, Crossing Borders, and my novel, The Nature of Truth, and my international anthology of essays, Our Lost Border, all of these feelings were there. But more importantly, I knew as a writer that they understood what I was doing on the page, they understood the readers I wanted to reach, they cared about the many communities I wanted to change. In short, Arte Público has had the same mission that I’ve always had: they want to give voice to those who want in to this American experiment, and they want to do it so that these voices are authentic and true to the people in places like Ysleta in El Paso, Texas or El Barrio of Spanish Harlem.
I would be remiss if I did not also mention two of my other favorite people at Arte Público: Assistant Director Marina Tristan and Executive Editor Gabriela Baeza. Both are at the center of what makes Arte Público thrive in the literary trenches. As an author at Arte Público, you know it’s about connecting with readers, and this all starts with connecting with the people who are publishing your book. At every stage of the publishing process, this personal attention is what turns your book into something much more than a commodity to make some money or a marketing plan to cover the huge overhead of offices on Broadway: with Marina and Gabi, your book becomes well-crafted words to reach and advance a community you love: a work of art that matters. Arte Público. That’s why I published with them, and that’s why I am proud that Arte Público is the recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.