Beverly Donofrio reads Astonished in San Miguel
By Jennifer Purdue
She awakened in the dark that early morning to find a rapist leaning over her bed, a knife held to her throat. Every woman’s nightmare, made more poignant for Beverly Donofrio because she knew a serial rapist had been attacking women in San Miguel de Allende; climbing into their bedrooms in the early morning hours. She did not spend hours “chatting” with him, as he’d forced the other women he’d raped to do. She did not entertain his twisted fiction that she was his “girlfriend.” She prayed the Ave Maria and the rapist fled into the night.Literature Astonished A reading by Beverly Donofrio Mon, Mar 10, 5pm La Aldea Hotel Ancha de San Antonio 15 100 pesos
She wrote an article for the local newspaper. The editor printed her article and the Ave Maria prayer. According to Donofrio, women all over town “cut the prayer out, pasted it to shop windows, memorized it, prayed.” Five days later, the rapist—who had held the town’s single women in terror for nearly two years—was caught. “The town’s coming together to pray is one of the things I will always love San Miguel for,” Donofrio says.
The rape and what followed became the subject of her third memoir, Astonished, published in 2013 by Viking. It portrayed her journey through denial, mourning, anger, vulnerability, mysticism, and healing, as she retreated to five different monasteries, refusing to be a victim or to lose her sense of humor.
On March 10, Donofrio reads from Astonished for the first time in Mexico, at the Hotel Aldea, jointly sponsored by SOL: English Writing In Mexico and the Literary Sala of San Miguel. All profits from this event will be donated to the San Miguel chapter of PEN International for their scholarship fund for at-risk Mexican youth. Copies of Astonished will be for sale at the event.
Donofrio, who lived in San Miguel from the mid 1990s through the later years of the 21st. century’s first decade, has been called a “master memoirist” by the Daily Beast, a well-regarded online newssheet. Her two preceding memoirs are the bestselling Riding in Cars with Boys, which was made into a popular movie; and Looking for Mary, a journey to rediscover her childhood religious faith. Currently on the faculty of the low-residency MFA program at Wilkes University, she has published essays in numerous anthologies and periodicals including The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, Cosmopolitan, More and many others. A chapter from Astonished was published in the locally-based publication, international literary journal SOL: English Writing In Mexico in its March 2013 issue, just before the book came out.
Donofrio left San Miguel shortly after she was raped. It was several years before she returned to this city. And yet, speaking about her impending return, she says she is “Joyful. I’ve looked forward to reading Astonished in San Miguel from the moment I conceived it.”
Donofrio did not grow up in a home with books. There were no bedtime stories. But her mother and father sang and danced, she says, and she sang and danced, and “played pretend and put on shows.” Her understanding that she was a “writer” came later. She first knew she enjoyed writing when her seventh-grade teacher gave the students free reign to write anything they liked.
Donofrio, like many writers, says beginnings are the scariest part of writing. “You have to give yourself permission to have authority and to create, try to impose order on chaos, find meaning in what may be a meaningless world, and trust that you have something to say that others will be interested in hearing.” She agrees with Gertrude Stein, in that, “Writing is hell. But having written is fine,” but with her caveat, “except when whatever you’ve written is almost there, and the only thing left is to make it sing. That’s fun.”
Of her best-known work, Riding in Cars with Boys, Donofrio says she was in a state of arrested adolescence when she wrote it. “The outraged voice, the unapologetically black and white take on the world is part of the beauty and the humor of the book. If I were to write it now, I’d want to—but I’m not sure if I could—recapture that voice.”
“I’m answering these questions in Woodstock, New York, wearing long underwear, three sweaters, fleece pants, a cowl, hat, wrist-warmers,” she says. “I can’t wait to be walking on cobblestones in San Miguel, warmed by the sun and the people, the wild crazy way of things, the fragrance of tortillas, running into friends as I round a corner.”
Jenny Purdue is an intern for SOL: English Writing in Mexico.