Community-wide Big Read Novel: In Perfect Light by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

By Robert Conrow

Benjamín Saenz

The San Miguel Writers’ Conference is excited to announce the novel chosen for our annual Big Read: In Perfect Light, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. We will launch The Big Read at the Literaary Sala event on January 9 at 5 PM at the Aldea Hotel, Ancha de San Antonio #15. At that event, it will be possible to purchase a copy of the novel, to sign up for a Big Read Book Discussion group, and to purchase tickets to Sáenz’s Writers’ Conference keynote presentation. Three local poets will also be speaking and reading from their works: James Cervantes, Laura Juliet Wood, and Lois Read.

San Miguel Writers’ Conference Announces
The Big Read Launch Event
Thu, Jan 9, 5pm
Hotel Posada del Aldea
Ancha de San Antonio, 15
Novel for the Big Read:
In Perfect Light by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
At the same event, hear three local poets:
James Cervantes, Lois Read, and Laura Juliet Wood
70 pesos (50 pesos for Literary Sala members)
Complimentary wine reception

Benjamin Alier Sáenz won the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction this year, the first Latino writer ever to win the award, along with many other awards too numerous to list. He will appear in person here in San Miguel for his keynote address at the Writers’ Conference on Saturday evening, February 15, at 6pm.

Sáenz teaches creative writing at the University of Texas in El Paso. He co-hosts a radio show about writers and writing called “Words on a Wire.” He studied writing at the University of Iowa and at Stanford. Before that, he studied theology in Belgium and spent several years as a priest.

Against the starkly beautiful and often brutal backdrop of the El Paso/ Ciudad Juárez border, In Perfect Light explores the vulnerable edges of people living en la frontera. Before the book’s characters attain the wholeness of light, they must first experience an almost total fragmentation of their lives.

In Perfect Light is not about a heavenly light shining down from above, but about a light within that wrestles fiercely and, ultimately, restores the lives of its primary characters: Grace, a therapist struggling with breast cancer and her own mortality; Andrés, her client, who has been sexually abused as a child and is accused of murder; Dave Duncan, an attorney, who comes to Andrés’s aide but with his own complicated motivations; and Vicente, a blind orphan, who sees things no one else can see.

In this remarkable book, Sáenz reveals his characters’ challenges through their own voices.  Like a skilled conductor calling first on the string section, next the wood, followed by the timpani, he deftly leads each character forward step by step until they are finally joined, by circumstance and yearning, in one unified whole.

Of the twenty some books that Sáenz has written, and the many prizes they have garnered, the author says that In Perfect Light is his favorite. Yet it was also his most difficult to execute. “I believe I rewrote this book at least ten times,” he says, “until I made it work.”  And ‘”work” it does. In Perfect Light is that rare book that takes the reader to the depths of both human tragedy and glory without ever feeling maudlin, contrived, or missing a beat.

If you would like to join a Big Read Book Discussion Group and are unable to attend the event on January 9, e-mail Diana Berman at You may obtain more information about the Writers’ Conference and purchase tickets on line at, or in person in the courtyard of the Biblioteca, from 11 to 2 on January 9 and 23, and February 4 and 6.


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