San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival 2014
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
The largest bilingual and bicultural writers’ conference of its kind in Latin America will be held in the city from February 12 to 17 and will feature renowned authors such as Yann Martell, Calvin Trillin and Laura Esquivel, among many others.
This year, the organizers face the challenge of deciding whether the conference should grow larger or remain relatively small and intimate, allowing more personal interaction among presenters and attendees. This year, according to the conference’s director, Susan Page, they were planning to limit the conference to 250 participants, but as of January 27 300 people had registered. “All of our workshops are going to be crowded,” she said.
San Miguel Literary Sala
Susan Page, originally from Berkeley, California, is the general director of the conference and the author of several books, including 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 started the San Miguel Literary Sala in August 2004, which is now a nonprofit organization that works, among other objectives, to create educational and literary appreciation programs for local residents. Yolanda Lacarieri, a member of the organization, hosts a radio show on Radio San Miguel called Sancho Panza Upside Down, which encourages people to read and helps to fulfill the organization’s goals. The San Miguel Literary Sala also has a program of reading appreciation in connection with Ojalá Niños in San Miguel Viejo. The Literary Sala has an agreement with Libros Sin Fronteras, which brings an author in for a full weekend and encourages children to read the author’s book before his or her arrival. The author then interacts with the children and signs their books. Through the Literary Sala, the writers’ conference provides 40 scholarships for adults to attend.
“In August 2004 when we had our grand opening we 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.
All are welcome
“This is not just one more gringo festival,” said Page, making it clear that everyone is welcome at the conference, whether they are writers or not. San Miguel is a world-class destination, known for its artists, but it also has been an important place for for well-know authors living and working in San Miguel. The festival, then, it is a tribute to the tradition of writing in the city and makes it a world-class literary destination by virtue of an event that educates, entertains and expands the vision of residents and visitors.
All the talks are simultaneously translated into Spanish or English. According to Page, tickets for keynote speakers such as Yann Martel and Calvin Trillen are sold out. The director said that the lectures are held in the ballroom of the Hotel Real de Minas, which has a capacity for 900 people, and currently there is a long waiting list for these two writers’ talks. “This is another challenge of the conference: We do not have a facility that can accommodate a large crowd, not even the new convention center,” said Page.
Calvin Trillin will discuss his adventures and misadventures in various kinds of writing, including nonfiction, commentary, humor, memoir and light verse. Trillin has been a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine since 1963. He has published 18 books, among them Runestruck (1977) and Remembering Denny (a memoir about the death of a college roommate). Trillin is a legendary journalist and has been called the finest reporter in the US. His book Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin (2011) was awarded the Thurber Prize for American humor. The author also wrote a book entitled About Alice. His talk will be held on Wednesday, February 12, at 6pm. Tickets are sold out.
Canadian Yann Martell will offer his talk on Thursday, February 13, at 6pm. He will speak about how the act of creating art and the act of receiving it are fundamental to human understanding and happiness. Martell is the author of a short story collection as well as a collection of letters to the Prime Minister of Canada. He has published three novels, the best-known being Life of Pi. Tickets for this talk are also sold out.
Mexican writer Laura Esquivel started writing when she was working as a kindergarten teacher. She wrote plays for her students and later educational TV programs for children. In her writing she explores the relationships between Mexican men and women. Her most popular novel, Like Water for Chocolate, was published in 1989. The book tells the story of Tita, the youngest member of the family, who wants to marry her true love, Pedro, but her mother upholds the tradition that the youngest daughter must stay at home to take care of her until she dies. Tita can only express herself when she cooks. A popular film based on the novel was released in 1992. Malinche, her most recent novel, has been translated into 13 languages. Her talk will take place on Friday, February 14, at 6pm.
The same day at noon Kathi
Diamant will speak at the conference. She has won several prizes and is a professor at the State University of San Diego, where she leads the Kafka project, which has the purpose of publishing online all Kafka texts in German, according to the manuscripts. In her lecture, she will discuss the story of love between Kafka and the mysterious Dora Diamant, as well as 10 things you must know about Kafka, such as the scientifically proven fact that “reading Kafka makes you smarter.”
Other keynote speakers are David Whyte, Ellen Bass and Benjamin Alire Sáenz. The latter, a Chicano author from El Paso, writes about his experiences on the border. His moving novel In Perfect Light was chosen for San Miguel’s “Big Read” event.
Some activities at the writers’ conferences are open to the public free of charge and without reservations, such as the bookstore located in a tent behind Hotel Real de Minas, which will be open from 9am to 6pm daily. Everyone is welcome to come in to shop and meet the authors, have a cup of coffee and take in the atmosphere of the festival. Books by all the presenters will be on offer, some of which would be hard to find in other places, said Page. A gala book signing event will be held on Saturday, February 15, at 3pm in the gardens behind the hotel, at which the keynote speakers will sign copies of their books. Check out the program of free activities in Spanish in Que Pasa.
Tickets for available events at the writers’ conference are for sale Tuesday and Thursday from 11am to 2pm in the patio of the Biblioteca, Insurgentes 25. Tickets can also be purchased at the Centro Cultural el Nigromante (Bellas Artes) Monday through Friday from 10am to 2pm. The whole package for the conference costs 6,820 pesos, and the basic package costs 5,520 pesos. Single tickets for available keynote lectures cost 350 pesos. Single tickets for workshops and other activities are on sale at www.sanmiguelwritersconference2014.org.