Rio Nuevo Publishers and Sibley's West: Boosting Arizona Businesses

Rio Nuevo Publishers and Sibley's West: Boosting Arizona Businesses

Posted by John Wolfe on 23rd Jul 2019

This is a series of posts spotlighting Arizona businesses that share their products with Sibley's West, as part of the "Small Business Boost" award efforts of 3TV/CBS 5, BNC National Bank, the Arizona Small Business Association and Cox Business.

It's not a stretch to suggest that one of Sibley's West's first attractions was a great array of children's books.

Many of those were written by a Tucson author, Susan Lowell, who looked at traditional tales through Sonoran sunglasses.

"Dusty Locks and the Three Bears." "Cindy Ellen: A Wild West Cinderella." "Little Red Cowboy Hat." "The Three Little Javelinas."

Coincidentally, Susan -- pictured above during a visit to the store -- was also one of our first suppliers, through the publishing company she started in 1999 with her husband, Ross Humphreys.

Rio Nuevo Publishers -- through their distribution companies, Treasure Chest Books and Canyonland Books -- has made monthly deliveries to Sibley's West for more than eight years.

Susan's story is fascinating.

She was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, as a fourth-generation Arizonan descended from explorers, ranchers, prospectors, and schoolmarms.

At the age of 7 she began to write little books, illustrating them with crayons and binding them with Scotch tape, and she has never stopped.

She earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Stanford University before heading to Princeton to earn her Ph.D.

She has served on the faculty of the University of Arizona and the University of Texas at Dallas and received numerous honors and awards for her writings.

The inspiration for her first children's picture book, "The Three Little Javelinas," came while at a traffic light with two bored children in the car.

As she was desperately reciting "The Three Little Pigs," her 8-year-old jokingly transformed them into their desert counterparts, to the amusement of her 2-year old sister.

This was the beginning of a series of stories based on familiar fairy tales with a Western twist.

She and Ross founded Rio Nuevo in 1999 as an independent regional press and family business.

Their focus is on books about arts and crafts, children’s literature, cooking, history, gardening, memoirs, Native America, nature, spirituality, and travel.

The company is located in Tucson on the west bank of the Santa Cruz River. Their building stands on the site of a former brickyard, close to the home Susan’s family built in the Arizona Territory 110 years ago.

In addition to her children's books, Susan has written a number of non-fiction titles, like "The Many Faces of Mata Ortiz," "Navajo Rug Designs" and "Cactus Flowers."

She was the co-author of "The Essential Southwest Cookbook" with Marilyn Noble and also published "Couds for Dessert: Sweet Treats from the Wild West."

She and Anna Humphreys wrote, "Saguaro: The Desert Giant."

Susan and Ross split time between Tucson and the San Rafael Ranch in Santa Cruz County, where they operate a cattle ranch.

San Rafael, near Patagonia, is known as the location for filming of the movie “Oklahoma” in the 1950s.

The magnificent territorial style ranch house, built by Colin Cameron in 1900, is nestled close to the Mexican border near Lochiel. According to "Arizona Ranch Houses," by Janet Ann Stewart, the earliest headquarters house was a simple strip-form adobe that was already on the property when Cameron acquired the land in 1884. He added on to that house and built several others, including the oft-photographed one familiar to history buffs, before selling the vast acreage in 1909 to Cananea copper magnate William C. Greene. 

Susan takes her greatest pleasure in writing for children and visiting schools.

"I do not believe that anything I can do in life is more important than encouraging children to read, and I cherish being told, 'Yours is the first book he ever showed any interest in,'" she said.