UH’s Arte Público Press (APP), the nation’s oldest publisher of contemporary and recovered Hispanic literature in the United States, is celebrating 35 years of promoting the voices of Latino writers. The press humbly grew out of a magazine with a subscription base of approximately 5,000 followers. Once the magazine started publishing regularly, the editors discovered schools were using their materials for educational purposes.
“During the 1970s, when ethnic studies classes were being started at universities, there were very few texts that could be used, so the magazine quite often was used as a text in the classroom,” said Nicolás Kanellos, University of Houston Brown Foundation Professor of Hispanic Studies and director of APP. “It became so successful that we started publishing special issues on topics. We decided that if we could publish special issues, we could publish books.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Born from the struggle for civil rights and a desire to speak to the Latino culture in our country, APP has made large strides to achieve its goal. Over the years, APP has launched the work of authors who have become well known to mainstream readers.
Among this group are Tomás Rivera (y no se lo trago la tierra/And the Earth Did Not Devour Him), Victor Villaseñor (Rain of Gold), Luis Valdez (Zoot Suit and Other Plays), Pat Mora (Chants) and Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street).
Many APP books and authors have been honored with awards, including the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle, Myers Outstanding Human Rights Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation American Book Awards, PEN Award, Southwest Book Awards and the Premio Aztlán.
Even rulers of foreign nations have taken notice of APP’s work. With the Royal Sanction of King Felipe VI, Kanellos received the Cruz de la Orden de Isabel la Católica in a private ceremony at the Houston residence of the Consul General of Spain. This is one of Spain’s highest distinctions, and it is awarded in honor of Kanellos’ contribution to the knowledge and dissemination of the Spanish language and Hispanic culture in the United States.
APP has published more than 600 books since its founding, and it maintains a stock of $2 million worth of inventory due to the large demand. APP runs Piñata Books, which produces literature for children and young adults. It also is organizing the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage project, which finds, preserves and disseminates the literary and historical legacy of Hispanics in the U.S. from colonial times to 1960.