Arte Publico

Houston-Based Book Publisher Celebrates A Milestone

Thirty-five years ago, Arte Publico Press began as a tiny, niche publication. Today, it’s a multi-million dollar organization.

Photo of Nicolas Kanellos
Nicolas Kanellos, Arte Publico Press’ founder and director.

In his quiet corner office at the University of Houston’s Energy Research Park, Nicolas Kanellos has three 8 X 10” framed pictures on his desk. Two are with former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. The third was taken at the Royal Palace in Madrid with the King of Spain. They were all events held to recognize him for his accomplishments over the years.

Kanellos is the director and founder of Houston-based Arte Publico Press, the nation’s oldest publisher of contemporary and recovered Hispanic literature. They recently celebrated their 35th anniversary.

But he says the story starts even further back.

“In the 60s, during the civil rights movement, I was surrounded by artists and writers who had no place to publish,” Kanellos explained. “So a friend of mine and I started a literary magazine.”

At the time, the grassroots organization was based out t of Gary, Indiana. But in the early 1980s, they were approached by the University of Houston.  

“We got an offer that we couldn’t refuse,” Kanellos says, grinning. That offer included office space, a paid staff, and an associate tenured position in what’s now the school’s  Department of Hispanic Studies. Starting out, their operating budget was about $10,000. Today, it’s a little over $2 million.

Part of Arte Publico’s tenacity over the years has come from diversifying their product to include non-fiction, academic readings, children’s books, and e-books. The other external factor has been the growth of the Hispanic population in the United States.

“Our market has grown,” Kanellos says. “Consequently, we’ve had to grow.”

Since their humble beginnings, Arte Publico has published over 600 books and introduced numerous Latino authors to the mainstream. Kanellos says the city has been good to them.

“(It’s an) environment that people say is ‘can do’,” he says. “You don’t really need a whole lot of background. If you’ve got an idea and you work hard, you can do it here in Houston.”


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