With great sadness, Lee & Low Books shares the passing of Bobby Byrd, beloved poet, friend, and co-founder of Cinco Puntos Press. He passed away on Monday, July 11, at the age of 80.
Bobby was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, but lived in the border town of El Paso, Texas for over forty years. He and his wife, Lee, raised their family there and co-founded Cinco Puntos Press out of their home in 1985. Though he carried his Memphis roots close to his heart, Bobby was a proud fronterizo, and passionately championed authors and artists from his beloved hometown through Cinco Puntos. His and Lee’s labor of love made the press a premier independent publisher that helped develop numerous preeminent authors and artists. In 2021, the Byrds sold Cinco Puntos Press to Lee & Low Books to enjoy retirement together. You can learn more about the legacy of Bobby’s life in this article from El Paso Matters.
We asked some of Bobby’s colleagues and authors to share their memories of him, and received an outpouring of responses filled with gratitude and beautiful memories.
Stephanie Frescas Macías, Editorial Assistant at Lee & Low (formerly at Cinco Puntos Press)
“Bobby Byrd was a joyful tornado of a person—boisterous, funny, and open-hearted. Everything he touched radiates that vivacity, from his poetry to the books he helped bring into the world. I had the good fortune of working at Cinco Puntos for almost three years, when it was still run by him and his wife, Lee, and from the moment I met Bobby Byrd he treated me with the warmth of an old family friend. Getting to know and work with him was an absolute privilege.
Bobby thankfully left a treasure trove of poems through which we can always hear his voice. He shared this particularly fitting poem in 2021, on his blog, White Panties and Dead Friends”:
A Poem for my 79th Birthday
when it’s over
scatter my ashes
in the Milky Way.
Craig Low, President, Lee & Low Books
“Bobby was a true artist and someone who lived life to the fullest. It was an honor and privilege getting to know him over the years and he leaves behind a proud legacy. He will be dearly missed by so many.”
Jason Low, Publisher, Lee & Low Books
“For years, I would stop by Cinco Puntos Press’s booth at ALA and commiserate with Lee and Bobby about small publishing. The Byrds were kindred spirits when it came to our shared experience of being fiercely independent publishers. I will remember Bobby Byrd as a kind man with a big laugh, who was always a passionate advocate for books and authors alike.”
Adriana Garcia, Illustrator of All Around Us and Where Wonder Grows
“Lee and Bobby became publishing parents to Xelena Gonzalez and myself when they took a chance on us and published our very first picture book collaboration in 2017 under Cinco Puntos Press. We had the chance to meet them and stay with them as we visited schools around the Southwest. And they were there cheering us on at various library conferences. I immediately understood their passion for their work, family, and each other. So unique was the time spent with them. Bobby left such a peaceful impression on me and I know on so many others. I’m saddened by your passing Bobby and I’m thankful that our lives intersected. My sincerest condolences to Lee and the Byrd family and to all my brothers and sisters in the Cinco Puntos Press familia.”
Xavier Garza, Author of the Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures series
“Bobby Byrd, together with the rest of the crew at Cinco Puntos Press, made the dreams of many aspiring authors and illustrators come true over the years. But Bobby was much more than just a publisher to us all. Bobby was our friend. He was a friend to each and every one of us. If you ever had the good fortune of meeting and spending time with Bobby Byrd, you know that you couldn’t help but feel good after talking with the man. He was a wonderful and gentle soul who sought to bring out the best in people. His words made you believe in yourself. He made you believe that all things were possible. Bobby was one of a kind. He will be missed.”
Xelena Gonzalez, Author of All Around Us and Where Wonder Grows
“I always heard Bobby Byrd called by his first and last name. Because it was fun to say and because there was no other like him. He reminded me of the old school Chicano cool cats I grew up around. Bobby was fully at ease in his border town and was eager to celebrate the beauty of its unique culture. He and Lee paved a way in an East Coast/West Coast publishing world to let the Southwest’s writing shine through—highlighting indigenous, brown, border, migrant, and immigrant voices before it became fashionable to do so. After decades together, he still looked at Lee like she was his brand-new love. It was an honor to be in the presence of their love and embraced by the Cinco Puntos family they created together. We are grateful for their belief in our work and in the work of so many other creators. The world is better for it.”
Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, Author of The Smell of Old Lady Perfume and Pig Park
“I will truly miss Bobby’s easygoingness. My heart goes out to Lee and the rest of the Byrd family. As co-founder of Cinco Puntos Press, Bobby’s footprint was immense. At a time when many other publishers thought books by and about Mexican kids wouldn’t sell, he helped give so many of us that chance we so badly needed.”
Joe Hayes, Author of La Llorona, My Pet Rattlesnake, and more
“It was in the spring of 1980 that fate saw fit to introduce me to Bobby Byrd. Bobby was spending a day at a junior high school as a visiting poet, and I was there trying to launch a career as a storyteller. True to his nature, Bobby took an immediate interest in me and my work. That very afternoon Bobby went to the office of the state Arts Commission and told them they needed to get me into their Artists-in-Residence program. That’s the sort of man Bobby was—interested, involved, caring, confident, eternally helpful. He had a heart that seemed to encircle the globe. It will take time for me to accept the fact that I’ll no longer hear his hollered greeting, join him in a rich belly laugh, listen to his thoughts and insights on every issue. Like so many others—above all his wife Lee, his children and their spouses, and his grandchildren—I feel a tremendous sense of loss. I find some comfort, though, in recalling how, in spite of his strong worldly engagement, Bobby was deeply spiritual and always expressed recognition and acceptance of his own mortality. That was yet another gift I received from my long friendship with Bobby Byrd.”
Tim Tingle, Author of Walking the Choctaw Road, Crossing Bok Chitto, and more
“I first met Bobby Byrd at the annual conference of the Texas Library Association in 2001. He and his wife, Lee, had a booth, and I dropped off an audio cassette of my Choctaw stories. A month later Bobby called me and said, “I would like to publish a book of your stories.” I didn’t recognize his voice, thought a friend was teasing me, and replied, “That’s not funny,” and hung up. Bobby called again, laughing, and this began a longtime friendship. His company published Walking the Choctaw Road, which became Book of the Year in both Oklahoma and Alaska. I am forever grateful to Bobby for beginning my career.”
Sergio Troncoso, Author of Nobody’s Pilgrims and A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son
“I was surprised, stunned really, to hear the news of Bobby Byrd’s passing. I admired him for this commitment to art with a social conscience, for his poetry, and for the friendship we had. I loved talking about politics, El Paso, family matters, publishing, finances, books, authors, and so many other subjects with him. We both knew Sandy Alexander, another independent publisher who always did it his way, and that initial connection was what brought us together. And yes, also the desert of El Paso. And yes, also the love of bringing the necessary voices from the border to the rest of the world of literature. I find it hard to think about El Paso without him. Today I am thinking of his family, particularly Lee Byrd and Susie Byrd, their daughter, whom I met through her parents. Lee was a great editor and is a good friend. My deepest condolences to them and everyone in the family. I will sorely miss Bobby Byrd.”
Cynthia Weill, Author and director of the Bank Street College of Education Center for Children’s Literature
“I loved working with Bobby and Cinco Puntos Press. The relationship was not that of publisher/author. It was informal and familial. I could call any time, including weekends. I enjoyed his visits to New York with wife, Lee, and a few times, their grandchildren. We had loud, boisterous conversations and disagreements but they were just that. No need to patch things up in the end. Finally, I will always treasure his black bean recipe. Bobby had a wide lens when it came to publishing. He was willing to step out of the mainstream. He could see the value in manuscripts that 25 years ago no one else could. He was willing to take risks and ended up giving a voice to authors and illustrators that had been traditionally marginalized. He was ahead of his time. Que descanse en paz querido amigo.”
Bobby, you and your generous spirit will be missed!