Literary Stars Converge on San Miguel

By Lee Bellavance

It is well known by now that literary giants Margaret Atwood, Elena Poniatowska, and Joy Harjo will present evening programs open to the public as part of the 2012 San Miguel Writers’ Conference. But the Conference also wants everyone to know that, in addition to these three events, six other presentations by distinguished writers are also open to the public.

Literature: San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival, General Sessions Open to the Public. Tue, Feb 16-Sun, Feb 19. Hotel Real de Minas. US$20 or 270 pesos. Tickets @ www.sanmiguelwritersconference.org or La Biblioteca

Naomi Wolf

An exciting and timely general session address is slated for Saturday afternoon, February 18 at 1:30pm with best-selling author, journalist, and political activist Naomi Wolf. Besides her international bestseller, The Beauty Myth, she has written The End of America, Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries, and, most recently, Vagina: A Cultural History.

And, perhaps even more important than her books, are her calls to action, her political involvements with presidential campaigns, and her organizations that foster change: The Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership and The American Freedom Campaign. She’s also an international journalist, Huffington Post blogger, cultural commentator for such august publications as The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Harper’s Bazaar — and was recently spotted being briefly detained by police in October at the Occupy Wall Street protests!

Naomi Wolf will make two presentations open to the public while she is here in town. Her Saturday afternoon address is entitled, Writing Riskily: Taking a Stand Within Your Prose. She will introduce the elements of the advocacy writing tradition — which has declined in the last 50 or so years even though she says there is a demand for and interest in it. Wolf will share some powerful themes for making advocacy writing immediate and effective–and provide some tools for people to take charge of their lives, voice their concerns and enact change.

Her second address, entitled Protest 101, will take place at 3pm on Monday, February 20, also at Hotel Real de Minas. It will be presented in association with Reel Docs and the Center for Global Justice. The hour talk will be followed by a screening of her film, The End of America, concluding with a question-and-answer session with film producer Avram Ludwig as well as Wolf herself.

Merilyn Simonds

Kicking off the series of general session addresses at 1:30pm Thursday afternoon, February 16, with a talk entitled A Writer’s Place is Canadian writer Merilyn Simonds. She is the author of 15 books including The Convict Lover, The Holding, The Lion in the Room Next Door and her newest, A New Leaf: Growing with my Garden. Appropriately enough at an international conference set in Mexico, Simonds, who spent her childhood in Brazil, will be looking at both literal and literary landscapes and how the places in her life have infiltrated her books.

Michael Schuessler

University professor Michael K. Schuessler, from the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana in Mexico City, gets Friday, February 17, off to a running start with his 9am address on Two U.S. Women and the Mexican Cultural Renaissance: Alma Reed, “La Peregrina” and Frances “Paca” Toor. These two American women played a big role in the rediscovery of things Mexican by the citizens of both Mexico and the United States using bilingual publications, gallery exhibitions, and writers’ workshops that they organized both in Mexico and the US.

Schuessler offers an opportunity to learn more about these two nurturers of both pre-Hispanic and Hispanic culture. And a trip to the conference bookstore will reward those who’d like to read more about conference heavy weight, Elena Poniatowska, in Schuessler’s 2007 publication from the University of Arizona Press, Elena Poniatowska: an Intimate Portrait.

Kristen Iversen

Friday afternoon non-fiction writer Kristen Iversen takes to the stage in the Real de Minas ballroom with The Art of Fact: Weaving Personal Story into Historical Context. Iversen is the author of three books, including the soon-to-be released Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, as well as Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth and Shadow Boxing: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction, the first textbook to cover the major subgenre of creative non-fiction.

Iversen’s talk will examine the larger cultural and historical context of personal stories and how the personal reflects “important moments in time that go beyond our immediate experience.”

Araceli Ardon

Next up in this rich array, at 9am on Saturday 18, is author, professor, cultural promoter and television host of a Querétaro-based show, Araceli Ardon. Her talk on The Memory of Common People: the Core of Literature, discusses how traditional sources of information for writers — diaries, letters, newspapers and documentaries — may be productively augmented by conversations with real people. Through the stories that these people recall, Ardon says that fiction writers gather the material to create more complex and believable characters.

Sharon Robinson

Wrapping up this exciting series of general session addresses, at 9am Sunday morning, February 19, is Sharon Robinson, the author of many works of fiction and nonfiction, and the daughter of one of Major League Baseball’s greatest players, Jackie Robinson. She has written several widely praised books about her groundbreaking father, who shattered baseball’s color barrier and opened a door of opportunity for all. These include Jackie’s Nine: Jackie Robinson’s Values to Live By, Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America, the picture book Testing the Ice illustrated by Kadir Nelson, and her most recent book, Jackie’s Gift: A True Story of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Jackie Robinson.

In her talk, Robinson will share her family’s inspirational story using art and family photos from her books Promises to Keep and Testing the Ice.

If any— or all— of these San Miguel International Writers Conference general session addresses sound tempting, tickets for each event are US$20 or 270 pesos. They may be purchased either online at sanmiguelwritersconference.org, or in the Biblioteca courtyard every Tuesday or Thursday between 11am and 2pm. However, tickets for Wolf’s February 20 Protest 101 talk and the film The End of America are available only at the Biblioteca for 150 pesos. Tickets will also be available at the door.

All sessions are bilingual and open to all on a space-available basis at the Hotel Real de Minas. They all promise to be stimulating and nourishing for the brain!

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