Dr. Gary Francisco Jiménez Keller, Author, social activist and founder and publisher/editor of Bilingual Review press and Regents Professor at Arizona State University passed away on July 15, 2020.
Keller was based at Arizona State University, in Tempe, Arizona where he founded and was director for many years of the Hispanic Research Center. Keller was also active in numerous artistic fronts, authoring his own fiction books, but also non-fiction books on Chicano cinema, literature and art.
Perhaps the most lasting legacy will be the creation of the Bilingual Review Press, a pioneering press and one of the most prolific publishers of literature written by Spanish surnamed authors. For all of his lifetime of commitment to his community, Latinopia recognizes him as a true hero of our people.
In this interview with Latinopia’s Jesús Treviño, Gary spoke about how Bilingual Review Press came about. You can visit the Bilingual Review Press website at: www.asu.edu/
LATINOPIA: How did you get interested in publishing?
KELLER: During the 1960s I was working on my PH.D. at Columbia University. I was very much involved in the Free Speech Movement and things like that. I was a protester though I was a graduate student, with the interest more into the Casa Hispanic at Columbia University and the Hispanic community. The other side of influence on me was the Chicano Movement. When Luis Valdez and the Teatro Campesino came to New York City, and there was the lettuce boycott and strike, I went to those performances with Francisco Jimenez and that was a really inspiring moment. Francisco, a close friend and colleague, got published in Quinto Sol and that really animated me.
LATINOPIA: How did The Bilingual Review come about?
KELLER: What led me to the Bilingual Review Press was something that was parallel to literature. After I got my PH. D. I was given the job of establishing a program in Hispanic Linguistics at the City College of New York. I was an Assistant Professor and I was really grateful for this responsible position. As part of that linguistics program I got some money to establish a journal called The Bilingual Review, La Revista Bilingual, in 1973. And we started out as a journal, not too much with bilingual education, though we had that, but rather Bilingualism, the social linguistics of Bilingualism. But from the very beginning we were publishing some fiction and some reviews of fiction and ethnic scholarship–from the very first issue which came out in January of 1974.
Very soon, by 1976 and 1977, it became enormously apparent to me and our group of students and professors that had established the Bilingual Review that there were very few outlets for the publication of fiction, poetry and theater. Our journal gradually took that up and beginning in 1976 we started actually publishing books. Our first book was Bilingualism and the Bicentenial. In 1976 we really started publishing fiction including, and I feel proud about this, a number of Chicana writers. We were among the very first to publish Ana Castillo and Alma Villanueva. And also Puerto Rican writers like Judith Ortíz Cofer and several others. We published both male and female, but we made a special effort to bring women’s writing to the fore. And we also published an important and influential theoretical book called Theory and Practice of Feminist Literary Criticism, in the 70s.
LATINOPIA: How did you determine to publish in English or Spanish?
KELLER: With respect to Chicano literature and Puerto Rican literature and Cuban American literature, and Bilingualism, there is a very close connection. I was a professor responsible for the graduate program, the brand new graduate program at the City College of New York. We had many many students who were bilingual but they did what in linguistics we call “code switching,” what is popularly known as “Spanglish.” And the literature was reflecting the same kind of thing. So I got involved in the publishing of fiction as an outgrowth of my interest in Bilingualism. We always were a major resource for people writing in a bilingual mode. Some of our early works, like Alejandro Morales’ Reto en El Paradiso, were 70% in English and 30% in Spanish.
LATINOPIA: Bilingual Review Press is now located in Tempe, Arizona. How did this change from New York come about?
KELLER: The way that the Bilingual Review press came to Arizona is an interesting story and interrelated to my own personal career. This is what happened. In 1973, I tried to get Latino literature published by Américas, the publisher in New York City, Las Américas. And they said yeah, we’re going to do it. We going to have this conference and we will publish your authors. And then whole thing fell through. But I was committed to the writers. So I took a loan out on my pension and we bought our own mechanical, optical–it looked sort of like R2-D2–typesetting machine that permitted us to do English and Spanish with all of the accents. So the Bilingual Review became more proprietary than I had anticipated it would. As I progress in my career, and I came to Arizona in 1986 to be a Regents Professor, I gave up my administrative role as Provost of Graduate Studies at the State University of New York, and the Bilingual Review came with me. So for anyone to have my services they also had to accommodate the Bilingual Review Press and some of the key staff, especially the Executive Editor, Karen van Hooft.
By 1986 we had published probably over 100 books. It was our policy to keep all of these books in print. Back in the days of the movement you would see books like The Fifth Horseman, published by Simon and Schuster, and they would disappear within eight or nine months. We didn’t permit that to happen with our books. Between 1976 and 19896 we were publishing eight to ten books a year.
LATINOPIA: What criteria do you use to decide whom to published?
KELLER: What criteria do we use? It was completely open, We were not part of any grupito, of any clique, we were not exclusively Chicano, or Chicano-Puerto Rican, or even Chicano-Puerto Rican-Cuban American. We even had gringos who published in a Hispanic mode. We are completely open, send us your manuscript! I will review it myself first to see if it looks promising. A children’s book, we don’t do that, so we send them to Arte Público Press. And if the manuscript meets a very low hurdle of appropriateness, I would send it out for review. So the books that came back with good reviews we published. I have to tell you honestly that we received so many manuscript that it became a harrowing thing. I can’t tell you how many deserving manuscript we were simply not able to publish. All we could do was about twelve books a year.
KELLER: How we got into art is an interesting story. We never limited ourselves to literature, our roots were in the social linguistics of Bilingualism, and ethnic scholarship–Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban American. I’ll tell you something really lovely that happened. We had a writer, Elva Treviño Hart, and she had a book called Barefoot Heart. And she sent it to me and she had just retired in a senior position at IBM. And she sent me the book and I said, “You know I really like this book!”At the time we weren’t do much with memoirs, it was a tale of how she grew up as a migrant worker. So we did publish it. The book took off incredibly, public radio, television, entire freshman classes. We made sufficient money on the book to invest in art books. With the money we earned from Elva Treviño Hart and with her blessings, we invested in Art books, which are very costly. But we were able to published them with very high production values and in large quantities so we could keep the price low. And they have been doing very well.
SOME IMPORTANT BILINGUAL REVIEW AUTHORS AND TITLES AVAILABLE FROM BILINGUAL REVIEW PRESS:
The Maypole Warriors
El Camino a Tamazunchale
The Road to Tamazunchale
MIGUEL ÁNGEL ASTURIAS
The Mirror of Lida Sal
The Legacy of the Mexican And Spanish-American Wars
(With Dr. Gary Keller)
Ojo de la Cueva
A Daughter’s a Daughter
Inheritance of Strangers
Memories of the Alhambra
Not by the Sword
The Day the Cisco Kid Shot John
Uncivil Rights and Other stories
The Mixquiahuala Letters
Five Poets of Aztlán
STELLA POPE DUARTE
SERGIO D. ELIZONDO
Libro Para Batos y Chavalas Chicanas
Perros y Antiperros
Rosa La Flauta
Trumpets from the Islands of their Eviction
ALICIA GASPAR DE ALBA
The Mystery of Survival and Other Stories
Three Times a Woman
(With María Herrera-Sobek and
Three Times a Woman
(With Alicia Gaspar de Alba and
Saga de Méxivo
(With Seymour Menton)
Fair Gentlemen of Belkin County
Estampas del Valle
Tomás Rivera, 1935-1984, The
Man and his Work
(With Vernon E. Latiin and Gardy D. Keller, editors)
JORGE A. HUERTA
Chicano Theater- Themes and Forms
Madame Ambassador, The Shoemaker’s
Don Luis Leal, Una Vida y Dos Culturas
(With Victor Fuentes)
Aztlán y México
Three Times A Woman
(With Alicia Gaspar de Alba and
Entre Letras y Ladrillos
From Labor to Letters
Pilgrims in Aztlán
The Dream of Santa María
de las Piedras
The Captain of All These Men of Death
Death of An Anglo
Reto en el Paraíso
Caras Viejas y Vino Nuevo
DANIEL A. OLIVAS
Latinos in Lotusland
Assumption and Other Stories
Devil Talk: Stories
JUDITH ORTIZ COFER
Reaching for the Mainland
& Selected New Poems
Rain of Scorpions and Other Stories
Sor Juana and Other Plays
Justice, A Question of Race
& Other Stories
In the Republic of Longing
ELVA TREVINO HART
SABINE R. ULIBARRÍ
Mayhem Was Our Business
Governor Glu Glu And
ALMA LUZ VILLANUEVA
Weeping Woman: La Llorona
and Other Stories
Luna’s California Poppies
The Ultraviolet Sky
Planet, with Mother, may I?
Shaking Off The Dark
JOSÉ ANTONIO VILLARREAL
TO VIEW THE COMPLETE LIST OF BILINGUAL REVIEW PRESS AUTHORS AND PLACE BOOK ORDERS LINK TO: WWW.asu.edu/brp