Three (Okay, Four) Novels that Show the Heart of El Paso

The Standard’s book tour of Texas stops in Sun City to learn about the places and people that make it shine.

By Caroline CovingtonJuly 13, 2016 9:30 am| ,

Over the past the few months, we’ve been doing a sort of book tour of Texas – it’s one thing to see the state through its landmarks and monuments, but another to see it through the lens of its best writers.

Today the tour stops in El Paso. Our tour guide to the literary soul of Sun City is Bobby Byrd, who with his wife Lee owns the independent publisher Cinco Puntos Press.

Byrd says when they moved to El Paso in 1978, they read Arturo Islas’s “The Rain God”, a novel about a family living in a fictional border town that quite resembles El Paso.

“El Paso is a Mexican-American city and and ‘The Rain God’ is a family story,” he says. “This is a family that migrated to Juaréz and then to El Paso during the Mexican revolution in 1911.”

in 2012, Byrd’s publishing house released “Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club” by Benjamin Sáenz, which won a PEN-Faulkner award. Byrd says it was the first time a Chicano author had won as well as a rare win for an independent publisher. Despite its name, the main location, Byrd says, is a bar across the river from El Paso. All of Sáenz’s stories connect to each other in relation to that bar.

“It’s sort of a like a touchstone,” he says. “These are stories mostly about young men who are crossing borders in one way or another.”

Byrd also recommends two books by Dagoberto Gilb: “The Magic of Blood” and “The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuna.”

“Everything Dagoberto writes in one way or another resonates with El Paso,” he says, “because El Paso’s a working class city and Dagoberto’s stories tend to be about men who are troubled in one way or another, who are trying to find some roots in which to live a good life. The men are really sort of searching through work and through love and through just being to have some sort of meaning in their existence.”

Post by Hannah McBride.