Kanellos, Nicolás: 1945—

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Nicolás Kanellos: 1945: Publisher, editor

Nicolás Kanellos has devoted his distinguished academic career to publishing works of Hispanic literature and scholarship in the United States. Through Arte Público Press, which he founded in 1979, he has published a wealth of material that has introduced Hispanic writing to mainstream readers. As he once commented in Contemporary Authors,, "As a publisher of Hispanic literature in the United States, I feel like a missionary who has to convert people to their own religion and identity. Hispanic culture has always been a part of the United States and its identity. People do not realize this, because the publishing and intellectual establishment have kept it a secret while selling us on an old-world identity. Arte Público Press intends to give back to the United States its many varied peoples."

Kanellos, whose ancestry is Puerto Rican on his moth-er's side and Greek on his father's, was born in New York City in 1945. He majored in Spanish at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and then earned a master's degree in Romance languages and a doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Texas at Austin. He also attended the University of Lisbon in Portugal and the Universidad Autónoma de México, where he studied Mexican literature, history, and culture. His scholarly publications on Hispanic theater are among the most widely read works in the field.

Founded Arte Público

From the beginning of his academic career, Kanellos was moved by the need for greater recognition of Hispanic authors. In a quote published on Arte Público's website, he said, "In the early 1970s, it became obvious that Hispanic writers were not being published by the mainstream presses. Because there was no outlet for creative efforts of these Latino writers, their work was condemned to be forgotten, lost or just delivered orally through performances." To bring these works to a greater public, Kanellos founded the literary quarterly Revista Chicana-Riqueña in 1972. This publication later was renamed The Americas Review, which won critical recognition from the New York Times, Small Press Review, and many other national publications. The quarterly also won citations of achievement from the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines in 1986 and 1987. The Americas Review released its final issue in 1999.

At a Glance . . .

Born January 31, 1945, in New York, NY; son of Charles and Ines (de Choudens Garcia) Kanellos; married Cristelia Perez, 1983; children: Miguel Jose. Education: Fairleigh Dickinson University, B.A., 1966; University of Texas at Austin, M.A., 1968, Ph.D., 1973.

Career: Founder, Revista Chicano-Riquena (now Americas Review), 1972; Indiana University Northwest, assistant professor, 1973-79; faculty member at University of Houston; founder, Arte Público Press, University of Houston, 1979.

Memberships: American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese; National Association of Chicano Studies; Modern Language Association.

Awards: Calouste Gulbenkian fellowship for study and research in Portugal, 1969-70; Eli Lilly Fellowship, 1976; Outstanding Editor Award, Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines, 1979; National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, 1979; induction into Texas Institute of Letters, 1984; Ford Foundation/National Research Council fellowship, 1986-87; White House Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature, 1988; American Book Award, 1989; appointed to National Council of the Humanities, 1994; Excellence in Research and Scholarship Award, University of Houston, 2001.

Address: Office Arte Público Press, University of Houston, M.D. Anderson Library, Room 2, Houston, TX 77204-2090.

Meanwhile, in the midst of a teaching career at Indiana University, Kanellos launched Arte Público Press as a further means of showcasing Hispanic literary achievements. The press was founded in 1979 to publish both contemporary works and recovered literature by U.S. Hispanic authors. When Kanellos was offered a faculty position at the University of Houston in 1980, the university invited him to take the press with him to Texas. He accepted, and since then Arte Público and its imprint, Piñata Books, have operated out of the University of Houston.

Arte Público, the oldest and largest publisher of Hispanic literature in the United States, now publishes 30 titles each year. In 1992 the press launched a project called Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage, a national program to locate, preserve, index, and publish the literary contributions of Latino writings dating from the colonial era through 1960 in the area that now comprises the 50 states. The program, which Kanellos directs, coordinates several print and electronic projects, including the U.S. Hispanic Bibliographic Database Project, which will compile and publish all available information on U.S. Hispanic authors and literary works, and the U.S. Hispanic Periodical Literature Project, which will compile and publish all known contributions made by U.S. Hispanic writers to periodicals from colonial times through 1960.

Began Publishing Children's Books

In 1994 Arte Público received a grant from the Mellon Foundation to publish children's books that accurately portray U.S. Hispanic culture. This resulted in the creation of Piñata Books, Arte Público's children's imprint. Piñata Books publishes bilingual picture books as well as novels for young adults, and its titles have won numerous awards. "For our children," Kanellos told Los Angeles Times writer Maria Elena Fernandez, "the world of Dick and Jane and middle-class suburbia is a big leap, as it is also a big leap to ask them to relate to stories about mid-century villages in Mexico."

By publishing children's works by such esteemed writers as Judith Ortiz Cofer, Pat Mora, Irene Beltrán Hernández, Ofelia Dumas Lachtman, and Gloria Velásquez, Piñata Books has made a significant contribution to cultural awareness and literacy. "For the first time," wrote Fernandez, "Latinos of all ages can find books in stores, libraries and their classrooms about children who live in two worlds but no longer feel torn. These bilingual children do not have to look far from their neighborhoods to find the voices of writers who use and understand language in their particular way: English prose that expresses American ideas in the rhythmic cadences of Spanish."

A tenured professor in the department of romance languages at the University of Houston, Kanellos has published widely in academic journals and has written five books on Hispanic culture, including Two Centuries of Hispanic Theater in the Southwest, Mexican American Theater: Legacy and Reality, and A History of Hispanic Theater in the United States. In addition, he has edited numerous anthologies, volumes of criticism, and other reference texts on Hispanic literature and culture in the United States. These include such history-based works as Chronology of Hispanic-American History: From Pre-Columbian Times to the Present and Hispanic Firsts: 500 Years of Extraordinary Achievement, as well as collections of short stories, poetry, and even Christmas stories.

Supported Latino Theater

Of particular interest to Kanellos is the past, present, and future of Hispanic drama in the United States. He told Los Angeles Times writer Mike Boehm that major regional theaters have not been acting quickly enough to produce Latino plays. "They're turning away from the future and the demographics of where the population is going," he noted. "There's a very good core of Hispanic theater material that could appeal to everyone, not just Hispanics, and they should be producing it."

Kanellos has done much to increase mainstream appreciation of Hispanic drama. In addition to his own works on theater history and criticism, he has edited or coedited anthologies of Latino plays, including Nuevos Pasos: Chicano and Puerto Rican Drama, which contains eight plays by leading Mexican-American and Puerto Rican playwrights. As Kanellos and coeditor Jorge A. Huerta pointed out in the book's introduction, these plays are examples of the sense of identity and community that theater has provided for Spanish speaking peoples in North America since the sixteenth century.

Anthology Hailed as Landmark Achievement

In 2001 Kanellos saw publication of one of his most ambitious projects: Herencia: The Anthology of Hispanic Literature of the United States. This work, which takes its title from the Spanish word for "inheritance" or "heritage," is the first anthology to include literature from the entire spectrum of Hispanic writing in the United States, from its first settlement to the present. Kanellos, who served as editor, spent ten years on the project and coordinated the contributions of hundreds of scholars. Herencia was hailed as a landmark achievement. In a comment quoted by the book's publisher, Oxford University Press, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. observed that "Nicolás Kanellos has made a major contribution to redefining even what it means to speak of 'American' literature." Ishmael Reed, also quoted by the press, commented: "Once in a while, a book comes along which topples institutional thinking and set beliefs. Herencia is such a book! [It is a] turning point-document of American literary history."

Kanellos has also made significant contributions outside the academic world. In 1994 he was appointed by President Clinton to a six-year term on the National Council for the Humanities. He also became a fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as a fellow of the Ford, Lilly, and Gulbenkian Foundations. In 2000 he was a guest at a White House state dinner in honor of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain. Leticia Konigsberg noted in a University of Houston Campus News piece announcing Kanellos's receipt of the university's Excellence in Research and Scholarship award, "Kanellos has been the driving force in making the fruits of Hispanic literary creativity available to all people."

Selected writings

Two Centuries of Hispanic Theater in the Southwest, Revista Chicano-Riqueña, 1982.

Editor, Hispanic Theater in the United States, Arte Público Press, 1984.

Mexican American Theater: Legacy and Reality, Latin American Literary Review Press, 1987.

Editor, Mexican American Theater: Then and Now, Arte Público Press, 1989.

Editor, with Jorge A. Huerta, Nuevos Pasos: Chicano and Puerto Rican Drama, Arte Público Press, 1989.

A History of Hispanic Theater in the United States: Origins to 1940, University of Texas Press, 1990.

Editor, Reference Library of Hispanic America, Gale, 1993.

Editor, Short Fiction by Hispanic Writers of the United States, Arte Público Press, 1993.

Editor, with Claudio Esteva-Fabregat, Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States, Arte Público Press, 1993.

Editor, The Hispanic Almanac: From Columbus to Corporate America, Visible Ink, 1994.

Editor, with Cristelia Pérez, Chronology of Hispanic American History: From Pre-Columbian Times to the Present, Gale, 1995.

Editor, The Hispanic Literary Companion, Visible Ink, 1996.

Editor, The Hispanic American Almanac: A Reference Work on Hispanics in the United States, Gale, 1997.

Editor, Hispanic First; 500 Years of Extraordinary Achievement, Gale, 1997.

Thirty Million Strong: Reclaiming the Hispanic Image in American Culture, Fulcrum Publishing, 1998.

Editor, Noche buena: Hispanic American Christmas Stories, Oxford University Press, 2000.

With Helvetia Martell, Hispanic Periodicals in the United States, Origins to 1960: a Brief History and Comprehensive Bibliography, Arte Público Press, 2000.

Editor, with others, Herencia: The Anthology of Hispanic Literature in the United States, Oxford University Press, 2001.



Contemporary Authors, Volume 131, Gale, 1990.

Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996.


Booklist, October 1, 1997, p. 353; October 15, 2001, p. 372.

Hispanic, December 2001, p. 72.

Library Journal, September 1, 1997; October 1, 2001, p. 98.

Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2000; September 24, 2000.


Arte Público Press, http://www.arte.uh.edu/ (June 11, 2002).

Oxford University Press, http://www.oup-usa.org/ (May 14, 2002).

University of Houston Campus News, http://www.uh.edu

Elizabeth Shostak