Sandra Cisneros: Problem?

Those looking for another canary in the coalmine signaling that the book-publishing industry is having a rough go of it these days—not that you need much more evidence—might consider the case of the Edward James Olmos Houston Latino Book and Family Festival, which recently hosted its sixth and final event. The Houston Press reported earlier this month that festival founder Nuestra Palabra, a nonprofit supporting Latino writers, pulled the plug in part due to book-business economics:

In January, [Nuestra Palabra chief Tony Diaz] says, Continental Airlines stopped their sponsorship of nonprofit organizations and banking institutions pulled their support. Even book publishers, usually eager to have their authors appear at high-profile events like the EJOLBFF, stopped covering travel and appearance fees for authors.

The organization still has a reading series, though, and Diaz makes an interesting point to the Press about how bringing in brand-name Latino authors might force the organization to rethink how it promotes itself:

“Nuestra Palabra is bringing in Sandra Cisneros in to Houston in 2009, but she’s not just a Latino writer any more. She’s at the point where for her to be thought of as just a Latino writer is a disservice to her work and to other folks who can embrace her writing, even though they’re not Latino. So I think this is the time for us to come up with new ways of how to be authentic to who we are but also open up to other communities. It’s not enough to be multi-cultural anymore. We have to be multi-multi-cultural. We have to be multi-media.”

It’s a classic crisis: Go more mainstream and you court criticism that you’ve lost sight of your mission; stay small and you court criticism that you’re not doing enough to get the word out. Inviting Cisneros to speak hardly seems like it would ignite a contentious situation, but it’s funny what sort of battle lines get drawn in a bad economy.

One thought on “Sandra Cisneros: Problem?

  1. That is an interesting conundrum, Mark. Another interesting part of it — big houses with Latino imprints (HC Rayo, for example) strategically brand their authors/lists as Latino, to court the Latino and Spanish-reading community. The International Latino Book Awards (an outgrowth/extension of the LBFF) has actually grown quite a bit over they years, and while it was once a small gathering of indie/small/academic presses, Rayo and other big trades with an eye on a burgeoning Latino/Spanish language market have increasingly been sweeping the awards (lending clout to the awards, but conversely taking the spotlight off some of the smaller presses and lesser known writers who could use the attention).
    The issue of the LBFF itself hitting harder times seems to be part of a larger trend — book signings, readings, and public events are less and less popular, while readers and authors are connecting more and more online.
    It will be interesting to see how the saga of the book world (i prefer) transition (as opposed to shakeup) continues to unfold in 2009.

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