Arte Público Press, oldest Latino publisher nestled in Houston, celebrates 40 years

Mayra Moreno Image
Thursday, September 15, 2022
Oldest Latino publisher nestled in Houston celebrates 40 years
Arte Público Press at the University of Houston continues to showcase literary leaders in the Hispanic community as it celebrates more than 40 years.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The oldest and largest Latino publisher in the nation is nestled right in our backyard at the University of Houston.

They have published hundreds of books for all ages in English and Spanish.

The publisher is getting ready to celebrate more than 40 years. ABC13 anchor Mayra Moreno sat down with the director of Arte Público Press as he reflects on the company's four decades.

From humble beginnings in 1979, to now 30 books a year, Arte Público Press at the University of Houston continues to showcase literary leaders in the Hispanic community.

"We're the biggest thing in Latino publishing that's been around for a long time," Nicolás Kanellos, founder and director of Arte Público Press, said. "Way back when, in the civil rights movement, there were a lot of us (publishers) running around a lot of small presses. But most of them disappeared over the years."

However, Arte Público remained strong and steadfast over the years. Kanellos reflects on the early days when his publication started as a small magazine, Revista Chicana-Riqueña. He says there were many creative voices in the Hispanic community that didn't have an outlet.

"Back then the United States didn't have as many Latinos as it does today. We were aware of the large communities in our long history here in the United States, but most of the institutions were really ignoring us," he remembers.

Even then, leaders of Arte Público stood their ground. They were visionaries.

"We knew where the country was going," he said.

Kanellos said they understood the Latino population would grow, and with that, there would be a need to publish our stories and more.

"We started a program to recover all of our history, all of our historical texts, hundreds of thousands of written documents that Latinos created in the United States, from the 16th century to the present," he said. "So we were able to find so many hundreds of thousands of texts and save them and digitize them. And make them available in large databases that are now being circulated among libraries and communities around the world."

Technology over the years made that possible. It's something they could have never imagined in the early years of the publication. Kanellos humbly remembers how they started:

"We were hand stuffing the envelopes for magazines to get them out. We were sorting. Sorting the mail ourselves. We were using actual cut and paste," he said.

This year, the publication celebrates not only more than 40 years of books, but also supporting many iconic Hispanic authors, launching new careers, giving Hispanics a voice and a platform, and even making a difference in the lives of young Hispanic children through its imprint, Piñata Books, which has published books in English and Spanish for bilingual children.

"Our kids need to see themselves in books. They need to see their families and the real cultural situations," he said.

As Kanellos and his publication look to the future, they will continue to give aspiring writers a shot and break barriers wherever they can.

"Most of the books that are available out there do not deal with Latinos," he said. "You know, only about 5% of, let's talk about children's books...only about 5% of children's books are written by minority authors, or reflect minority authors, or reflect minority life, and I'm talking about Asian American, African American. I think 5%, that's incredible. What a statistic. So we're trying to change that around."

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