Yap Mennen: Fequière Vilsaint and Maude Heurtelou of Educa Vision

Written by Kat with 2 Comments

If you’ve never heard of Educa Vision, you’ve at least seen, read or purchased one of the publishing company’s books without realizing it. Educa Vision, whose niche is publishing Haiti-focused, and Creole-language books, is based in Coconut Creek, Florida and among their bestsellers was one of the first full-pledged Haitian-Creole language dictionaries. Headed by Féquière Vilsaint who serves as CEO and President and author Maude Heurtelou, who holds the reins Vice President, the company has and grossed half a million dollars last year.

What started as a three-person operation, has grown to nearly a dozen staff members, publishing at least 65 titles a year from about 10 when the company first launched in 1991. In addition to the educational titles that are Educa Vision’s bread and butter (books, audio, video, charts, interactive titles), the company publishes children’s fiction books, historical, and coffee table titles. Among the books in Educa Vision’s rich and eclectic catalog are Fine Haitian Cuisine: A Broad Collection of Haitian Recipes by Mona Cassion Ménager, one of the few books about Haitian cooking in English, and Who is Who in the Haitian Diaspora a reference book of notable Haitians, a historical tome A History of Survival, Strength and Imagination in Haiti by C. Accilien, J. Adams, E. Meleance and even an English translation of noted Haitian painter Philippe Dodard’s book L’Idée de Modernité dans l’Art Contemporain Haïtien, not to mention several groundbreaking Kreyol-English bilingual children’s books, including The Bonplezi Family, widely catalogued in children’s libraries all over the United States.

The publishing company has expanded to include non-Haitian themed books like The Two Mrs. Gibsons, a children’s book about an African-American girl of Japanese heritage. Vilsaint and Heurtelou have also added Caribbean Studies Press, an imprint of Educa Vision, that publishes Caribbean-interest works. Vilsaint, a graduate of Concordia and Lavale University, estimates that his company has 755 books in its catalog. He was more than happy to discuss Educa Vision with us.

How did you get interested in publishing?
As a Molecular Biologist at the University of South Florida, I was often invited to speak to high school students about careers and specifically about my work as a Biochemist and Molecular Biologist. These encounters took place mostly during Black History Month celebrations. At one of these encounters, a student seated in a corner appeared completed disinterested to the discussion. My efforts to get his attention did not move him. I learned later that he was a Haitian student who did not speak English. To make the story short, I started to prepare thematic bilingual lists for the student to review a week or two before the teacher would introduce a specific theme. That led to one teacher inviting me to speak at a teacher’s meeting at county-level [and] later to a state-level ESL conference. In all cases, some teachers requested copies of my thematic notes for their own students, in other schools. I made the decision to develop and publish two dictionaries in one year and to organize Educa Vision.

After the first year, I requested and obtained one year leave of absence from the University. After the leave period, I decided not to return and continue the development of Educa Vision. I’ve been interested in publishing, since high school. In college, I was photo editor and later French editor for the University newspaper. I also volunteered to organize several community communication pieces.

When did the company start being profitable?
After about one year, we reach a break-even point and we stayed more or less at this level for many years. We systematically re-invest any profit to develop new projects, train our employees, re-tool or renew equipment and expand working space. We offer additional editorial services to institutional customers, including other publishers, the Center for Disease Control and others. These services bring some revenues to help Educa focus on educational materials.

Are you pleased with the response that you’ve gotten so far?
Teachers with Haitian students in the USA are delighted to have access to educational materials connected culturally and linguistically to the Haitian students. In Haiti, educators interested to find materials in home language are very happy to seek our resources. We are invited occasionally to present training seminars in Haiti. The responses from teachers are very, very encouraging. Finally we received several awards, including one from Haitian Studies Association during the Annual Conference at Brown University in 2010. In 2011, The United States Library of Congress invited Educa Vision along with some authors to make a presentation at the Library Of Congress—on Educa Vision history and trajectory—for the Permanent Archive.

Has the fact that Educa Vision is based in Florida been a plus for the company?
We think so. The benefit of being in South Florida is a proximity to Haiti. I can travel early in the morning, participate in a meeting in Port-au-Prince and return the following day early. In the United States, most of the orders come in electronically or by the Post Office. Our [face to face] contacts with customers are through conferences and exhibits. The exhibits are in Florida and New York, equally.

No doubt you are inundated with manuscripts and book proposals. What criteria do you usually look for when deciding whether to turn a manuscript into a publication?
First, that the manuscript has an education connection or a cultural reference. Second, that the author has a good grasp of the subject at hand anchored by experience, education or both. Third, that the author masters the language in which the manuscript is written. Fourth, that the content is rationally, critically and functionally organized. Fifth, that we can sell the books in the market that we serve. Sixth, other. This is a simplification. There are other elements that we consider in evaluating a project. We discuss submissions during a weekly editorial meeting that takes place every Wednesday at 1:00 PM.

What have you learned along the way as a publisher of multicultural and Caribbean-themed books?
The Caribbean is a diverse and dynamic environment. It contributes a large body of interesting materials analyzed through a critical prism that could be appreciated by people around the world. It is important to open access to education for all, with materials that include the experience of the students in the context of a multicultural world.

Where do you see Educa Vision heading?
In 2011 we published 63 titles, in four different languages for K-12 and academic levels. This year’s crop include a science collection of 36 titles in Haitian Creole. [So] more books, convergence toward materials that can be accessed electronically. We are working on the first Haitian Creole Encyclopedia.

This has been an edition of Yap Mennen, in which we celebrate and highlight the achievements of leaders in the community. Join us for the next edition!

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