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Photo Credit: Maria Teresa Valenzuela,  

Literary Scene: South of the Border

by Wayne Greenhaw



Nestled high in the hills of colonial Mexico, about 250 miles north of Mexico City and 60 miles southeast of Leon/Guanajuato, the nearest international airport, is the town of San Miguel de Allende, where expatriate writers and artists first invaded the narrow cobblestone streets and massive haciendas in the 1940s.

After World War II, U.S. veterans came to San Miguel to study art and writing at the Instituto Allende, where Stirling Dickinson, an artist from Illinois, directed the school’s curriculum.         

Although musical bells ring from the towers of more than a dozen 17th and 18th century Catholic churches on the quarter-hour and fireworks go boom throughout many nights of summer festivals and the stringed instruments play through the first three weeks of every August with the International Chamber Musical Festival, writers work here amid the sounds.          

High in my own tower in our pumpkin-colored house south of town, I watch the sun’s first glitter between the creases in two hills to the east. Every morning it looks as though a golden glitter spreads across the countryside until it covers the pink spires of the Parroquia, the main church on the Jardin or garden in the center.

From my place atop Ojo de Agua, the hill known as the gold of water, I write my words. In late August I take a break to appear as the guest speaker/reader at the San Miguel Writer’s Workshop, organized by Jodie Fagan and conducted by friends, Janice Eidus of New York and Beverly Donofrio, who moved to San Miguel several years ago.         

Eidus, author of numerous short stories, including the collections, Vito Loves Geraldine and The Celibacy Club, and novels, Urban Bliss and Faithful Rebecca, has been a frequent visitor to San Miguel, where she has spoken to several PEN conferences. 

Donofrio is the author of two memoirs, Riding in Cars with Boys and Looking for Mary. A popular movie starring Drew Barrymore was made from the former and of the latter, novelist Susan Minot wrote, “A wonderful book! Beverly Donofrio writes with heart and a mischievous sense of humor.” 

Earlier in August, Donofrio was one of a number of writers reading from their work at the San Miguel Authors Sala Inaugural Fiesta at the El Arbol book store on calle Aldama. Also gathered for that occasion were Linda Lowery and Richard Keep, award-winning authors of more than 40 children’s books. They spoke on “Ten Top Tips for Writing Children’s Books.”         

Also on Friday, August 6th, Patrice Wynne, author of The Womanspirit Sourcebook, read from her memoir-in-progress, Reborn on Cobblestones, and Susan Page, a relationship expert with five published books, spoke on “How Spiritual Partnership Transforms Love.”         

Christopher Cook, an award-winning fiction writer, psychotherapist and journalist read from his novel, Robbers, and local favorite artist, Toller Cranston, who is also an Olympic figure skating champion, read from his memoirs, Zero Tollerance and When Hell Freezes Over, Should I Bring my Skates?         

Katherine Hatch, author of a biography of Helen Hayes, read from her current work on a descendant of Hernan Cortes.

Acclaimed fiction writer Alice Denham, who was also a Playboy centerfold model, read from her novel, My Darling from the Lions.

Maria Dolores Beatriz, author of Latina Lite Cooking, shared her insights about nutrition in the Mexican cuisine. Samples of appetizers from her book were served during a reception following the readings and book-signings.         

At the Eidus-Donofrio workshop, I read a chapter from my latest non-fiction, The Thunder of Angels: Behind the Scenes of Segregation, to be published in 2005 by Chicago Review Press.

On the evening of September 3rd, I was the guest speaker/reader at the First Friday meeting of the San Miguel Authors Sala at the El Arbol. At the 5 p.m. gathering I read from My Heart is in the Earth: True Stories of Alabama and Mexico, reading about a time 40-plus years ago when I was 18 and spending my first summer in San Miguel. I hung out in La Cucaracha bar on the main square, and it was there that Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and their buddy Neal Cassady congregated and talked and made things swing. They stayed about a week and we all went to Atotonilco, a religious shrine about five miles north of San Miguel, and the hot mineral baths nearby.
Photo Credit: Patrice Wynne,

First to read on First Friday was local poet Lee Gerstad, who returned to poetry after raising her family and working as a psychologist in Manhattan. She read from her chapbook, "Warm Inner Parts," as well as some new works. A member of Live Poets of San Miguel, she has read recently at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival at Waterloo, New Jersey. 

The San Miguel Authors Sala plans First Friday readings every month at El Arbol.

Wayne Greenhaw
Instituto Allende
My Heart Is in the Earth: True Stories of Alabama and Mexico
By Wayne Greenhaw
River City Publishing, 2001
ISBN:  0-913515-16-7

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