Iviven Los Libros!
He already is a Johnny Appleseed of sorts. For 11 years the ebullient barber turned bookseller has cultivated a love of reading in California's Hispanic community and traveled the U.S. lobbying educators to expand reading programs and publishers to print more Spanish-language books. His 6,500-sq.-ft. store, Libreria Martinez, has one of the largest collections of Spanish language volumes in the nation. In September the Mac-Arthur Foundation awarded him a $500,000 prize for his work. "He believes," says novelist Sandra Cisneros, "in the power of books to change lives."
They have certainly shaped his. Raised by Mexican-immigrant parents, both copper minlers, in Miami, Ariz., Martinez taught himself to read as a child. After a series of factory jobs in California, he opened a barbershop in 1976, stocking the waiting area with classics. When one too many clients walked off with a title, Martinez stopped loaning and stalled selling. "I started with 2 books. Then 5. Then 25. Then the big 100," he says. Now the divorced father of three stocks 17,000 titles and has retired the barber's chair, though it still holds pride of place in the store, where Martinez bustles about offering advice. "I'm not the biggest bookseller in the world," he says, "but I'm the noisiest!"