Ten Years of Books and Poetry with the San Miguel Writers’ Conference
By Jesús Aguado
The San Miguel Writers’ Conference is the biggest multicultural and bilingual conference in the world, taking place this year from Wednesday, February 11, to Sunday, February 15. The conference will feature keynote speakers like Tracy Chevalier, Richard Blanco, Gloria Steinem, and Ángeles Mastretta.
Heading the festival is American writer Susan Page, who has written popular books, such as If I am So Wonderful Why Am I Still Single and Why Talking is not Enough? Page commented that after ten years, the organization is more solid than ever. They now know how to organize a small, boutique, interactive, and intimate world-class conference appropriate for a World Heritage City like San Miguel de Allende. Moreover, the festival director has promised that this will be the best conferences that has ever existed and probably the best in the world.
The San Miguel Writers’ Conference will attract more than three thousand attendants from Canada, the United States, Mexico, and other countries from Europe and the Americas, “thanks to the great commitment and enthusiasm of those involved who make it possible. Ten years are interesting because we have turned San Miguel into a mecca for writers,” highlighted Page.
The conference program will feature success stories of well-known writers who have written their pieces in this city; inspired by the colonial courtyards, gorgeous sunsets, and the support of the artistic community; “I wrote my last book here,” commented Page.
The congress, which offers the full-time attendants “a taste of Mexico” with a party featuring mariachi bands, mojigangas (giant puppets), traditional food, and folkloric dances, will take place in the ballroom of the Hotel Real de Minas and will feature a small market, where visitors will find books in English and Spanish from more than 50 authors, including the keynote speakers, members of the faculty, and members of the San Miguel Literary Sala.
In addition, all the addresses will be bilingual, simultaneously translated into Spanish or English according to the audience’s need. Single tickets for one lecture cost 300 pesos.
The congress will open on Wednesday, March 11, with Tracy Chevalier presenting her lecture, “The past is a foreign country: why history matters” from 11:30am-3:30pm. Although born in Washington, DC, she has lived in London for a long time. She has been a reference book editor and has also written seven novels. Chevalier has written important historical novels, including her first book, Girl with a Pearl Earring, which sold four million copies worldwide and was made into a film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson.
Taking place in the 17th century, the novel tells the story of Griet, a 16-year-old girl who is forced to work as a maid due to her family’s poverty and her father’s blindness. Griet works for the painter Vermeer, with whom she develops a good relationship. When the painter’s model becomes ill, Griet takes her place. From there, fascinating events unfold.
On Thursday, February 12, from 1:30-3:30 pm, the congress will present Richard Blanco lecturing on “Becoming American: An Inaugural Poet´s Journey“. In 2013 Blanco was chosen to serve as the fifth inaugural poet of the United States, becoming the youngest and the first Latino immigrant and openly gay writer to hold the honor. Blanco’s poems have been published in literary journals and anthologies. He is currently working on a full-length memoir and collaborating with renowned illustrator Dav Pilkey on a children’s book. Seven months pregnant, Richard’s mother arrived as an exile from Cuba to Madrid, where he was born. They immigrated to New York City 45 days later. The writer grew up in Miami, surrounded by Cuban exiles who instilled in him a strong sense of community, dignity, and identity that he would carry into his adult life as a writer.
Mexican Ángeles Mastretta studied journalism at the Faculty of Political Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and has collaborated on several national newspapers, including Proceso and La Jornada. Mastretta’s novels present women who reflect the political and social life in Mexico. Her first novel was Tear This Heart Out (Arráncame la Vida). This novel tells the story of Catalina, a young woman who marries a general with political desires that lead towards the presidency of the Mexican Republic. Catalina, who does not know that much about life, cannot accept her new lifestyle. She begins an affair with a man younger than the general which will lead to a fatality. The novel was made into a film with a budget of 6.5 million dollars. Mastretta’s lecture, based on the title of her novel, The Emotion of Things, will take place on Friday, February 13, from 6-7:30pm. It will be a reflection on her parents’ and grandparents’ history, the search for origins between Italy and Mexico, and the curiosity about forgotten times beginning with the Independence, and moving on to the Mexican Revolution and the Second World War.
On Sunday, February 15, the conference will end with writer Gloria Steinem, who will talk about Writing Our Way to the Revolution. She will discuss why stories are crucial to movements, and how writing and reading about the lives and ideas of the female half of the globe has been, is, and could be a compass into a very different future. Tickets for this lecture are sold out.
The entire festival program can be consulted under “Festivals and Events” in Qué Pasa. For more information go to sanmiguelwritersconference.org
The market and book signing
The San Miguel Writers’ Conference runs what is arguably the best English-language bookstore in Mexico, and it will be open to the public. The bookstore will feature books written by keynote speakers, fifty distinguished faculty members, and Literary Sala members.
The Conference Artisan Market will present vendors selling works of art, jewelry, textiles, and handmade paper items. The bookstore’s “Lit Lounge” is a convenient coffee bar and lounge area and a great place to soak up the exciting atmosphere of the conference.
The public is invited to meet Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, Tracy Chevalier, Richard Blanco, Jane Urquhart, and Ángeles Mastretta to have their books signed at 3pm on Sunday, February 15. Books will be available for purchase in the bookstore.
The space will be open from Thursday, Feb 12 through Sunday, Feb 15, from 9am-6pm.
This year, the San Miguel Book Fair will occur on the same dates as the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. The book fair is totally in Spanish and will feature lectures and book signing by Mexican authors. It will take place at the Jardín Principal from 10am-6pm. The fair director, Victor Sahuatoba, advised that people should attend the events because they can have a good time. “We need recreation,” he noted. In addition, he said that Mexican authors and editors offer a good selection of novelties and classic books. Look for the program of events in “Festivals and Events” in Qué Pasa.