Writer Elena Poniatowska visits San Miguel de Allende
From the Editor
By Jesús Ibarra
The Mexican journalist and fiction writer Elena Poniatowska was a keynote speaker at San Miguel Writers’ Conference 2012, which took place at the Hotel Real de Minas from February 16 to 19. Poniatowska granted an exclusive interview to Atención.
Jesús Ibarra: Many of your fictional characters have lost a parent. Is there a motivation for this recurrent theme of loss?
Elena Poniatowska: Actually, I had not noticed it. But yes, Lorenzo de Tena (La piel del cielo, The Skin of the Sky) lost his mother when he was a child. Jesusa Palancares (Hasta no verte Jesús mío, Till We Meet Again) also loses her mother as a child and lives with her father.
JI: Is La Flor de Lis autobiographical?
EP: It has a bit of my childhood in France, and what it means to belong to a family descended from nobility.
JI: Is La piel del cielo based on your husband, Guillermo Haro?
EP: It is partially based on my husband, but it also is fictionalized; he did not have the life that I gave to Lorenzo. It is based on science, because many scientists came to our home and I heard them talking, and also my son, Emmanuel Haro Poniatowski, is a scientist.
JI: Do you do research for each book?
EP: I work hard. I’m pretty insecure, so I read and document a lot.
JI: What inspires you to write your novels?
EP: I am a journalist and very interested and impressed with everything that happens in my country. For example, based on the massacre of October 2, when so many students were killed, I wrote La noche de Tlatelolco. Hasta no verte Jesús mío is the story of a soldadera during the Revolution, whom I met. My novels come from stories I’ve heard from people, and also I’ve always questioned things and I’ve done many interviews.
GS: Any advice for other journalists and writers?
EP: Listen and watch. From what one sees and hears many novels, and any kind of stories, may come out. It is also good to read other authors; writing is a result of reading.
JI: Do you have a favorite author?
EP: A Catalán named Merced Rodoreda; she wrote the novel La plaza del diamante, which deals with the Spanish Civil War; you never see the battle directly in the novel, but you can feel the war through the characters. And what about you, do you have a favorite author?
JI: Juan Rulfo and you; I especially like La piel del cielo.
EP: Thank you, I feel very honored. How good that you like La piel del cielo. I love that you have told me that.
JI: Do you consider yourself a chronicler of life in Mexico?
EP: I think the true chronicler of Mexico City was Carlos Monsivais. I did many things with him; for example, in the earthquake of ’85, we were all around, picking up on people’s pain. I believe that chronicling our country, documenting what happens, is very important. I have tried it in several books, including Nadie, nada, las voces del temblor (No One, Nothing, the Voices of the Quake). I always focused on the less fortunate, as in Fuerte es el silencio (Strong Is the Silence).
JI: Why do you call the less fortunate “angels of the city”?
EP: Because they look like little angels when they pass between the cars begging or selling. Some of them are so small that one has to look out the car window to see them, because all you see is a little hand. They are campesinos, especially Mazahua women, coming from the area of Toluca.
JI: Are you proud of Mexico?
EP: Not now. I am very proud of its people, of the people who do their work well, but I am very hurt and disappointed with politicians. I do not think we deserve the politicians we’ve had. We deserve neither violence nor corruption, nor the drug trafficking that has become what it is today. I want a change.
GS: Will you support Andrés Manuel López Obrador for president?
EP: Yes, I’m supporting him, because when he speaks I understand what he says, because he does not have a record inside that just repeats. He says things spontaneously, and I think he has a very inclusive agenda that will give great emphasis to education, the lack of which is the root of the problems we have in Mexico.
JI: What is your impression of San Miguel?
EP: I see people so happy here; I think there is a sense of prosperity and security, a faith in themselves I have not seen elsewhere. There is no notion of defeat, and that is very important.
JI: What are your upcoming projects?
EP: I’m working on a new novel. I will try to organize some useful things that have to do with education. In Mexico there are few opportunities; we need to believe that we are needed, that nobody is going to replace us, that we are worthy because of what we are. I think we Mexicans lack that sense.