21 February 2012

San Miguel Writers Conference 2012

The only bi-lingual bi-cultural writing conference in the world, the seventh year.

Scene: Four jam-packed days in the charming city of San Miguel. Close-up on the sprawling Hotel Real de Minas, set back from a noisy cobblestone street, tucked among bougainvillea and fruit trees. 200+ writers/editors of all types clustered to learn and to celebrate the written word.

Theme: "Creative Crossroads of Americas" and indeed it is. Canadians, North-Americans, Mexicans, a smattering of South Americans and Europeans, find common ground.

Hotel Real de Minas, San Miguel de Allende, MX

Voices: A huge ballroom filled to the brim with folding chairs facing a small stage, flanked by large original Mexican paintings, three times a day features remarkable keynote speakers: Canadian Merilyn Simonds talks about a sense of place and the divine [and hysterically funny] Margaret Atwood speaks of writing and hope. American Naomi Wolf advocates for advocacy in writing and native-American Joy Harjo of music and poetry as the gateway to the soul. Polish-Mexican Elena Poniatowska beguiles us with a cultural and creative history of her adopted homeland. She moves me to tears with her humility and dignity – truly I wanted to kiss the hem of her long red skirt. Sandra Cisneros makes a surprise appearance to read from a work in progress and to introduce La Senora Poniatowska whose stories I am reading and who continues to wow me. How sad that so few of her works have been translated into English and how sad that Americans so rarely enjoy the works of great international writers.

Elena Poniatowska
Workshops: Fiction, memoir, humor, travel writing, blogging, etc., and a literary salon on Emile Zola presented by Bea Aronson, a French ex-pat professor of comparative literature. Later that day, I ducked out of my afternoon workshop to enjoy her seminar on Proust. Aronson hosts a weekly salon her on all things artsy and if I lived here, I would attend them all. One workshop on fiction is good, others not so much, more for beginners, which thankfully I no longer am, although always more to learn, and not all workshops are raves, there is a bit of griping about teachers who have come to promote books, but one cannot expect perfection in any conference or event of this scope, nor so in life. 

Tally: 42 speakers and educators, including four agents who take pitches every fifteen minutes between sessions, a little like speed dating but we take whatever opportunity comes our way. Note: Two agents I pitch want to read my new novel SHE RUNS. Oh happy day!

Lunch: Buffet or distributed in colorful bags by sweet young volunteers, accompanied by spontaneous conversations of not only writing but politics, media, personal journeys. I encounter a local, Lyn Prashant, a grief therapist, who spent the first seven years of her life in the same building in the Bronx where I grew up and we share memories of friends and locale. I meet a smart sassy retired lawyer turned short-story writer who is already winning awards. A middle-aged LA back-packer searching for her "inner Latina" and writing her memoir, an Australian screenwriter turned novelist who is definitely going to be a huge success, a sweet young editor who moves around a lot with her Coast Guard partner and is peddling her own fiction, a retired ex-pat living in Oaxaca, among others.
Bea Aaronson

Fiesta: The second night, held on the grand at Insituto Allende, the place that put this place on the map, on the grand patio facing the glowing spire of the Parroquia in the Jardin [center of the city] features fun food and lively indigenous dancers, and another opportunity to cement new friendships. Ms. Atwood is seated at the table next to mine, and when she is suddenly alone for a moment, I chat briefly with her [okay, at her] and she is most gracious. I feel more accomplished by sheer proximity.

Sidebar: Throughout the day, in the lobby, on the lawn, sitting on stone benches, writers write - computers, notebooks, ipads, on their laps, words flowing on their pages. Perfect punctuation.

Closing: A production of an original play on Dorothy Parker and a final reception that I miss because I am beat and opt instead to have a quiet dinner with my daughter.

Epilogue: I am inspired, exhausted, over-stimulated. Blessed to be here, staying in Dana's gorgeous apartment, enjoying time with her and also the company of new friends and her lovely colleagues at LifePath Retreats. I feel honored to have been in the company of so many whose voices demand to be heard. More than ever, I am proud to say:  I am a writer. Soy escritora.

Footnote: Here another week, working, playing, taking private Spanish lessons, enjoying more time with Dana. Have computer, can live anywhere, and especially happy to be back in SMA – a blend of Santa Fe, Laguna Beach and Berkeley, grounded in Mexican culture and sensibility. Like no place else I've been. Muy Bien.

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