Byrd, Lee Merrill
Byrd, Lee Merrill
PERSONAL: Born in NJ; married Bobby Byrd (a publisher and author); children: two sons, one daughter.
ADDRESSES: Office— Cinco Puntos Press, 701 Texas, El Paso, TX 79901.
CAREER: During early career, worked as a technical writer at Fort Bliss, TX; El Paso Natural Gas, El Paso, TX, magazine editor for three years; Cinco Puntos Press, El Paso, cofounder, copublisher, senior editor, and president, 1985—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Southwest Book Award, Border Regional Library Association, 1993, for outstanding achievement in bringing national recognition to their regional literature; Southwest Book Award and Stephen F. Turner Award, Texas Institute of Letters, 1993, for My Sister Disappears; Dobie-Paisano Fellowship, 1997; Skipping Stones Honor Book Award, Southwest Book Award, Paterson Poetry Center Prize, and Teddy Award from the Texas Writers League, all 2003, all for The Treasure on Gold Street; Cultural Freedom Fellowship, Lannan Foundation, 2005; American Book Award, for excellence in publishing; inducted into the Latino Literary Hall of Fame; five National Endowment for the Arts publishing grants; three Texas Commission for the Arts grants; two grants from Fideicomiso para la Cultura de México y Estados Unidos, funded by the Belles Artes and the Rockefeller Foundation.
My Sister Disappears: Stories and a Novella, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1993.
The Treasure on Gold Street = El tesoro en la Calle Oro: A Neighborhood Story in English and Spanish (bilingual children’s picture book), illustrated by Antonio Castro L., translated by Sharon Franco, Cinco Puntos Press (El Paso, TX), 2003.
Lover Boy = Juanito el cariñoso (bilingual counting book for children), illustrated by Francisco Delgado, Cinco Puntos Press (El Paso, TX), 2005.
Riley’s Fire (novel), Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC), 2006.
SIDELIGHTS: Lee Merrill Byrd is the founder, with her husband, Bobby Byrd, of Cinco Puntos Press, which specializes in publishing the multicultural literatures of the American Southwest. She is also the author of fiction for children and adults. In My Sister Disappears: Stories and a Novella, the author “paints disturbingly realistic pictures of the pain and beauty of difficult family situations,” according to David Cline in Booklist. Cline also declared the stories “remarkably beautiful.” Byrd’s title story is about the breakdown of a girl named Emily, who is getting ready to go to the prom. Byrd returns to Emily again in the collection’s novella. The author, whose own two children suffered serious burns, also writes of badly burned children and their families in two other tales. A Publishers Weekly contributor reported that “Byrd has a plain style that lays bare the quirks inherent in family relationships.” Kathy J. Whitson further commented in Studies in Short Fiction:“The strength of the volume may be that it forces us to examine the unthinkable and the unpleasant, as Byrd shows us images that make us instantly turn away in a revulsion that diminishes us until we consent to take a second, more compassionate look.”
In her first novel, Riley’s Fire, Byrd writes of young Riley Martin, who ends up in a burn clinic after playing with matches and gasoline. With burns covering nearly two-thirds of his body, Riley finds himself trying to cope in a new world of fellow burn victims and distraught parents. Writing in the State, Claudia Smith Brinson felt that “Riley’s Fire is a near-perfect novel, elegantly compressed, deep in heart and spirit, miraculously true to a young voice and a child’s truth.” Brinson added: “Among the book’s many strengths is its remorseless portrayal of Riley’s mom. She is heartbroken and crazed in her grief.” Debbie Bogenschutz commented in the Library Journal that the author “does a beautiful job of inhabiting the mind of a seven-year-old boy.” Marta Segal Block, writing in Booklist, observed that there is a “seductive dreamlike quality to both Riley and the book,” while Texas Monthly contributor Mike Shea called Riley’s Fire a “singularly powerful book.”
Byrd has also written two bilingual children’s books:The Treasure on Gold Street = El tesoro en la Calle Oro: A Neighborhood Story in English and Spanish and Lover Boy = Juanito el cariñoso. Lover Boy is a counting book featuring a young boy who likes to give kisses, from one for his big sister to two for his dad, and three for his mother. The story then follows the boy as he goes on to other kissing encounters. School Library Journal critic Maria Otero-Boisvert called the story “tender” and enjoyed the “enthusiastic text.” A Kirkus Reviews contributor referred to Lover Boy as “a winning story of love of family and friends,” while a Children’s Bookwatch reviewer deemed the book a “fun and entertaining guide to counting.”
The Treasure on Gold Street features Hannah, who narrates the story about her friendship with Isabel, a mentally disabled woman. Young and innocent, Hannah sees her friend as maintaining her childlike view of the world while Hannah’s friend Erica, who is a little older than Hannah, maintains a more reserved attitude toward Isabel. “Cast as narrative, it is actually a work of sociology based on the lives of Byrd’s family and neighbors,” according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who also noted that The Treasure on Gold Street’s length and the subject matter make it a book that is best read to children and then discussed later. School Library Journal contributor Ann Welton concluded: “This is at once a sensitive treatment of the mentally challenged and a celebration of the real-life Isabel.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES
Austin Chronicle, June 9, 2006, Melanie Haupt, review of Riley’s Fire.
Booklist, December 15, 1993, David Cline, review of My Sister Disappears: Stories and a Novella, p. 737; January 1, 1994, David Cline, review of My Sister Disappears, p. 804; April 1, 2006, Marta Segal Block, review of Riley’s Fire, p. 18.
Children’s Bookwatch, July, 2006, review of Lover Boy = Juanito el cariñoso
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2003, review of The Treasure on Gold Street = El tesoro en la Calle Oro: A Neighborhood Story in English and Spanish, p. 1309; March 15, 2006, review of Lover Boy, p. 287.
Library Journal, February 1, 2006, Debbie Bogenschutz, review of Riley’s Fire, p. 69.
Publishers Weekly, October 25, 1993, review of My Sister Disappears, p. 57.
School Library Journal, December, 2003, Ann Welton, review of The Treasure on Gold Street, p. 142; June, 2006, Maria Otero-Boisvert, review of Lover Boy, p. 142.
State (Columbia, SC), June 14, 2006, Claudia Smith Brinson, review of Riley’s Fire.
Studies in Short Fiction, spring, 1996, Kathy J. Whit-son, review of My Sister Disappears, p. 298.
Texas Monthly, May, 2006, Mike Shea, review of Riley’s Fire, p. 54.
Cinco Puntos Press Web site, http://www.cincopuntos.com/ (December 18, 2006), brief profile of Lee Merrill Byrd.
Lannan Foundation Web site, http://www.lannan.org/ (December 18, 2006), brief profile of Lee Merrill Byrd.