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Conference makes San Miguel a mecca for writers

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

For eight years in a row, the San Miguel Writers’ Conference has brought distinguished writers and authors to town, including literary luminaries such as Margaret Atwood, Tom Robbins, Erica Jong and Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska, among many others. This year the event will take place from Wednesday, February 13 to Sunday, February 17 at the Hotel Real de Minas. This year’s list of keynote speakers includes Cheryl Strayed, Luis Alberto Urrea, Juan Villoro and Lawrence Hill. In addition, the conference includes a wide range of workshops, meetings with literary agents and a very Mexican fiesta.

Origins of the conference

Susan Page, originally from Berkeley California, is the general director of the conference and a well-known author of such books as If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I still Single? and Why Talking Is Not Enough, among others. Based on workshops that Susan used to offer to improve couples’ relationships, she wrote her books between 1970 and 1980. She has appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show as well as on “Good Morning America,” CNN and various radio programs in the US.

“When I arrived in San Miguel de Allende I was surprised that there were no author readings, and not even a space for local authors like me to sell their books. I thought it was time to start a writers’ organization, and I did. We began with 28 people. In August 2004 we had our grand opening and offered author readings the whole day,” commented Page, who also said that the grand opening was a success. For that reason, Judy Feagan, a colleague of Page’s, encouraged her to start a writers’ conference. In 2006 the first conference was held, featuring well-known writers such as John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, “and since then the event has been growing and attracting the most distinguished writers,” Page told Atención.

San Miguel is well known for its artists and the visual arts and as a popular tourist destination. Through the San Miguel Writers’ Conference, the organizers also pay tribute to the tradition of writing in San Miguel and turn the city into a world-class literary destination to educate, entertain and enlighten with a bicultural, bilingual conference. About half of the attendees come from the US or Canada, and increasingly a large percentage of conference-goers are Mexicans. “This year, the new associate director is Carmen Rioja, and we are expecting to have more Mexicans in the audience. The more Mexicans we have, the more talks we can offer in Spanish,” said Page.

Not just for writers

Anyone is welcome at the conference, whether they themselves are writers or not. At this, the largest bicultural and bilingual writing conference in the Americas, there are sessions open to the general public, and all the talks are simultaneously translated into Spanish. According to Page, about 250 people have already registered for the full conference, and the events open to the public could attract up to 800 people. She said that the intention is to keep the conference fairly small to maintain a sense of intimacy and heighten interactions among the invited writers and attendees.

Page added that this year the conference will feature two panels. The first, on Saturday, February 17, at 1:30pm is titled “Women Writing Their Lives.” The panel will be composed of a very distinguished group of women, including Susan Brown Lavine, the first editor of Ms. Magazine, and Teresa Stack, president of The Nation Company, which publishes the magazine The Nation. On Sunday, February 18, at 1:30pm a panel will discuss truth versus artistic license and creative nonfiction.

The event also includes personal interviews between writers and literary agents from New York. Page commented that last year two sales to New York publishers resulted from contacts made at the conference. “In the United States it is almost impossible to get published without a literary agent, and it is very hard to get an agent to work with you. It is also very hard to get to meet face-to-face with an agent because it all is done now through email, so the opportunity to sit in front of an agent face-to-face and present your book is an extraordinary opportunity. We are bringing down four top literary agents to hear people’s proposals and book ideas,” Page said.

Keynote speakers

Four keynote speakers will address the conference, two of them from the US. Cheryl Strayed is the author of the number-one New York Times best-selling memoir Wild, which is about her hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from southern California to the border of Washington. She also wrote the bestselling book Tiny Beautiful Things and the novel Torch and writes an online advice column called “Dear Sugar.” The second US keynote speaker is Luis Alberto Urrea, who wrote The Hummingbird´s Daughter, The Devil’s Highway, Into the Beautiful North and a dozen other books. He grew up on the border in Tijuana and often writes about the issues unique to that part of the country.

From Canada comes the keynote speaker Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes, which is a story about emigration, racism and cultural issues in his home country. Juan Villoro, from Mexico, is the fourth keynote speaker. He has published stories since 1970 and, according to his web page, he has developed a body of work that continues to enrich through different genres such as novels, essays, travel memoirs, chronicles and even stories for children.

More information

Complete information in English about the San Miguel Writers’ Conference is available online at Tickets can be purchased online or on Monday or Thursday from 11am to 2pm in the Biblioteca courtyard.

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