#smwc2020, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Poet Juan Felipe Herrera: Tell someone today, ‘You have a beautiful voice’

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Poet and author Juan Felipe Herrera reads from one of his 30 published books at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival #smwc2020 on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.

Prologue: Juan Felipe Herrera was Poet Laureate of the United States 2015-17. He is an artist, a teacher, the author of 30 books across all genres, and he plays a mean harmonica.

As a keynote speaker at the 15th annual San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival, Herrera put the harmonica to good use. He also introduced plenty of “participatory poetry,” goading on the audience to share the load as he read his poems.

Herrera’s commentary is every bit as poetic as his published works. In fact, it was hard sometimes to see where his beguiling banter ended and a poem began.

Herrera’s life was a rough one from the start. His family traveled up and down California in the migrant labor trucks, from harvest to harvest.  Continue reading

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San Miguel de Allende

A night with author Colum McCann in 21 cantos

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Colum McCann signing books after his talk at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference this week.

Colm McCann came to the United States as a young man to write the great novel. When he got there he discovered he had nothing to say. So he bought a bicycle and pedaled out of Boston in search of a Muse. A year and a half and 8,000 miles and many flat tires later, he rolled into San Francisco a changed man.

Along the way, he collected hundreds of stories and made some profound discoveries about people and himself.

Everyone should try that at least once. (My recommendation, not necessarily Colum’s.)

Or, try this. When Tommy Orange was writing “There There,” and found himself in a hole, he’d strap on his running shoes and go for a long-distance run. He ended up with “good solutions and really bad poetry.”

OK, let’s stop here for a moment. Continue reading

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#smwc2020, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Welcome to the many rooms of author Madeleine Thien

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Madeleine Thien signing books after her keynote address at #smwc2020 on Wednesday.

If the author Madeleine Thien were an Air B&B, there would be a waiting list 600 people strong to occupy her rooms.

The rooms of her imagination, the rooms of her research, the rooms of metaphor, and tangible rooms of exacting detail. The rooms of her prose and connectedness to the great minds of 20th Century theorists and the early Enlightenment, 17th-century rationalists hunted and scorned by church and body politic alike for questioning the composition and very existence of their God.

What brilliant yet challenging rooms they are, in the prose of Thien.

Spinoza’s rooms, for certain. And Martin Heidegger’s. And the adjoining and more intricately appointed rooms of the mind of his acolyte and lover, Hannah Arendt. Philosophers all who wove brilliant thoughts, existential transports, with universe-spanning concepts that transcended time, space, and dimension. Continue reading

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San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Sam Donaldson agrees: The ‘warm-up band’ (Alison Wright) stole the show

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Photographer Alison Wright and ABC newsman Sam Donaldson share a moment after delivering their talks in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, on Feb.29.

While globe-trotting photographer Alison Wright billed herself as “the warm-up band for Sam Donaldson” and begged the audience not to boo her off stage with shouts of “Sam! Sam! Sam!,” the retired ABC newsman had a whole other take on the evening.

Wright and Donaldson were co-headliners before a packed Literary Society house in the HRM Ballroom in San Miguel de Allende on Wednesday, Jan. 29.

When Donaldson stood up to speak, he was clearly awed by the sometimes harrowing tales and stunning photographs presented by Wright, a featured National Geographic photographer.

“I’ve always believed that you don’t follow dogs or children onstage,” intoned Donaldson, “to which I’ll add, ‘Don’t follow Alison Wright!’ “ Continue reading

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Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Think twice before painting a whole nation with broad strokes, avoid the ‘single story’ trap

am-dirtThe last thing I’m going to do is review a book I’ve not read.

Plenty of people are pouncing all over “American Dirt,” especially Latino writers. They don’t need another old white guy to wade in.

The major complaints seem to be around author Jeanine Cummins’ tone-deaf characterizations of immigrants, Mexicans mostly. Her characters could have been more nuanced, more richly detailed, less stereotypical, the critics say.

Some also resent that she made an extraordinary amount of money for writing this story, as though her seven-figure payoff sucked the oxygen right out of the cultural-literary writing room — money that maybe could have gone to authentic Latin/Mexican writers.

Continue reading

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San Miguel de Allende

Seeing San Miguel in new and fresh ways through sketching, cooking, and dichos

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The collection of images in this post have no specific relevance to this post, other than they are “things” I have noticed since Thursday’s Literary Sala. For example, how often to you see a Sue Grafton book sitting on a window ledge? Especially themed well with the window display was “K is for Killer.”

I went to the Literary Sala this week to learn about urban sketching and Mexican cuisine but, more than that, I learned how to see San Miguel through new, fresh, and exciting  eyes.

Susan Dorf has been drawing San Miguel scenes and people for a decade and many know her through the colorful sketchpad images that appear in the weekly bi-lingual paper, Atencion. Her eye for detail is extraordinary and her ability to capture the essence of street scenes in ink and watercolor rivals the hundreds of iPhones trying to do the same.

Patricia Juana Merrill Márquez is a San Miguel native with roots going back 400 years. She is an architect, a hotelier, and a champion for Mexican cuisine. She also collects dichos — Mexican idioms and aphorisms that open a window onto this unique culture.  “The Buen Provecho Book,” is a mix of recipes and lively insight into Mexican culture.

I guarantee that few of us see the same San Miguel as these two. Continue reading

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