From its beginnings on the artistic fringe during the Hispanic Civil Rights Movement to its current status as the oldest and most accomplished publisher of contemporary and recovered literature by US Hispanic authors, Arte Público Press and its imprint, Piñata Books, have become a showcase for Hispanic literary creativity, arts and culture.
“In the early 1970s, it became obvious that Hispanic writers were not being published by mainstream presses,” says Nicolás Kanellos, PhD, director of Arte Público Press and a professor of Hispanic literature at the University Houston. “Because there was no outlet for the creative efforts of these Latino writers, their work was condemned to be forgotten, lost or just delivered orally through performance.”
To address this need, Kanellos founded the Revista Chicana-Riqueña in Gary, Indiana, in 1972. This quarterly magazine for Latino literature, art and thought eventually evolved into The Americas Review, which won praise and recognition from The New York Times, Small Press Review and numerous other publications nationwide. It was the recipient of the 1986 and 1987 Citations of Achievement from the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines. After 25 years of launching the careers of numerous Latino authors, The Americas Review published its final issue, Volume 25, Numbers 1-4, in 1999.
Building on the literary magazine’s success, Kanellos founded Arte Público Press in 1979 to further the endeavor of providing a national forum for Hispanic literature. The following year, Kanellos was offered a position at the University of Houston, and he was invited to bring the press with him.
The original publishers of Sandra Cisneros’ seminal The House on Mango Street, Arte Público's other well-known authors include Obie-award-winning playwright and filmmaker Luis Valdez, playwright Miguel Piñero and best-selling authors Nicholasa Mohr, Victor Villaseñor, and Helena María Viramontes.
As part of the ongoing efforts to bring Hispanic literature to mainstream audiences, Arte Público Press launched the Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage Program in 1992. This program represents the first nationally coordinated attempt to recover, index and publish lost Latino writings that date from the American colonial period through 1960.
The notion of an imprint dedicated to the publication of literature for children and young adults was planted by an urgent public demand for books that accurately portray US Hispanic culture. In 1994, a grant from the Mellon Foundation allowed Arte Público Press to transform the dream into a reality. With its bilingual books for children and its entertaining novels for young adults, Piñata Books has made giant strides toward filling the void in the literary market created by an increased awareness of diverse cultures.
In 2009, Arte Público Press received a grant from the Kellogg Foundation to launch the Latino Children’s Wellness Program—an outreach program whose mission is to expand access to important health and nutrition information through lively and engaging bilingual children’s books. The books are distributed to low-income children residing in urban and rural areas by partnering organizations.
Publishing twenty five to thirty books each year, Arte Público Press is David to New York publishing industry Goliaths. However, because of its cultural sensitivity to its writers and the experiences they write about, along with a vision for the role of Hispanic literature in the United States, the Press has demonstrated that size (or lack of it) is not proportionately related to success in the commercial book market.