FILEY 2017 – the biggest literary event of the year

This coming week, if you wander into the Siglo XXI Convention Center from the parking lot, you’ll see the length of the corridor is decorated in a bright red and yellow motif, with traditional Chinese paper lanterns hanging overhead.

If you come through the side access, you’ll feel as though you’ve wandered into a Campeche landscape; reminiscent of colonial times.

The changes in décor are part of the attractions of FILEY – the International Readers Festival of Yucatan, to be held at the convention center from Saturday March 11th until Saturday March 18th. Each year, a state in Mexico and an international country are the honored guests at FILEY – for 2017, the featured state is Campeche and the country is the People’s Republic of China.

FILEY is sponsored by the University of Yucatan (UADY) and the organizational committee has spent more than a year planning the event. This week, the convention center looked like a beehive or ant hill with so many people working  ‘round the clock, to set up the Chinese and Campeche pavilions, the mega book fair, and an art garden. This year the FILEY is offering more than 1,200 activities, and many will be held in the convention center’s salons and cinema.

130 book publishers, sellers and other culture-focused business have stands at the book fair, located in the Salon Chichen Itza. Most of the titles are in Spanish, but even if you cannot read the language, you will thoroughly enjoy the people watching and the energy of this once-a-year extravaganza.

A bilingual presentation, “Intercultural Writers in Yucatan – Escritoras Interculturales en Yucatán” is slated for Thursday March 16th at 8 pm. The invited writers are Marianne Kehoe, Linda Lindhlom and me!  I won’t give away the surprise by giving you the details of our presentation. But we hope you’ll come out and support us.

To read more about the FILEY, click on this link to the Yucatan Expat Life website:

The full FILEY program can be downloaded from the Diario de Yucatan site:

Elena Poniatowska

At the FILEY on Sunday evening, Elena Poniatowska presented her 68th book, Dos Veces Unica.

All heads turned as the celebrated author moved into the conference room. She had dressed in one of the loose-fitting embroidered blouses she’s so fond of, and a matching skirt swept the tops of her sensible shoes. Despite the black hair ribbon tied around her head, she absent-mindedly flicked at the stray white tendrils falling into her china-blue eyes.

She’s in her 80s. Her small frame looks somewhat more frail and her movements seem slower than the last time I saw her. But as she continued her way towards the presidium, the crowd’s applause invigorated her. She straightened her back and quickened her step. She smiled broadly, waving in every direction – making eye contact with everyone she could.  She seemed to be enjoying herself tremendously.

But once seated, as Elena gazed over the sea of admiring fans, she looked awestruck. She told me once that she always feels overcome by the reception she receives.

“People adore Elena Poniatowska,” said the person sitting next to me.

“And with good reason,” I replied.

“Is she a friend of yours?” the same woman wanted to know.

A friend?  Yes she is, but I feel something more for Elena. She is a mentor. I am blessed to have spent time with her, and on each of those memorable occasions, she has set me at ease. She has remarkable listening skills and from time to time, she offers sage advice.  Many of her stories make me laugh out loud, and others make me cry.

Though not born in Mexico, the heart of this country belongs to Elena Poniatowska. Numerous times she has said that her work as a journalist honed her ability to gauge the pulse of the people. She defended them following the massacre at Tlatelolco in 1968. She did so again after the 1985 earthquake. She rips into wrongdoing with words as sharp as the beak and talons of a hawk. Powerful politicians and big business tycoons fear this tiny woman’s power – they give her wide berth.

She is the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves. They do not fear her, they flock to her – they call her Elenita.

On Sunday night she shared the presidium with a founding director of the FILEY, Dr. Sara Poot Herrera, and Juan Villoro, the recipient of this year’s “Jose Emilio Pacheco Prize for Excellence”. He got the event underway with his personal anecdotes about Elena and her writing.

His admiration of her interviewing technique and her tenacious style bordered on worship. He held out his arms in resignation. “She could never be psychoanalyzed because the therapist would find himself being psychoanalyzed by her.”

True that. Her skills are always primed.  In her company everyone – paupers and presidents – divulge their secret selves.

When Sara Poot Herrera spoke, she emphasized that Elena’s most recent book is her 68th. “For Elena Poniatowska, there is something significant about that number.”

Sixty-eight books. Prolific does not begin to describe such an accomplishment. As well, she has published literally thousands of newspaper pieces, magazine articles, interviews, chronicles, short stories and essays. To support her causes, she has appeared in public at least as many times as she has been published.

She has received awards from eminent institutions around the world – including the Cervantes prize. For Spanish language writers, this is the equivalent of a Nobel for literature.

Elena Poniatowska is hugely successful. However, she faltered when asked how she feels about this. Her eyes looked thoughtful and her voice softened. “I think it is just as important to be a good mother and grandmother as it is to be a good writer,” she said.

The evening ended with a standing ovation, and a long line quickly formed.  Elena signed books for more than an hour, and her smile did not falter until she had penned a dedication to every single fan.

I have met many writers. I have never met another with such grace.

To read more about Elena Poniatowska, visit this link:

PS, I wish I had a better photo but my cell phone has its limitations.

FILEY – Feria Internacional de la Lectura Yucatán (International Reading Festival of Yucatan)

This year, FILEY will be held from March 12 – 20. Sponsored by the Autonomous University of Yucatan – UADY, the event is a wonderful opportunity for everyone living in Yucatan. The most acclaimed writers and essayists of Mexico present their works, participate in panel discussions and lead workshops. Local authors are also featured.

FILEY poster

Yes, most of the presentations will be in Spanish, but a wide range of theater, music and dance presentations are also part of the program. In the FILEY exhibition hall, the majority of Mexico’s publishers and many innovative entrepreneurs have stands.  Of course, there is also delicious food for sale.

The full program can be seen here. I am sure it will also be published in the city newspapers over the weekend.

The lion’s share of the presentations will be at the Siglo XXI Convention Center, but special events will also be held at other venues in and around Merida.

Dr. Sara Poot Herrera
Dr. Sara Poot Herrera

A major force behind the FILEY is Dr. Sara Poot Herrera, an internationally celebrated academic from Yucatan. She is best known for her research and writing about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

She has published more than 100 books, papers, chapters and articles. She now divides her time between her two professorships at the University of Yucatan and the University of California at Santa Barbara. She is co-founder of the UC-Mexicanistas Association, an Intercampus Research Program of the University of California System.

I feel it is SO IMPORTANT for members of the international community to attend the FILEY. In my opinion, we are becoming too insular. Many Anglo residents and long term visitors only seem to enjoy events that are in English – or those that require no Spanish language skills (like the Symphony or shows at art galleries). We can always learn more, even if we only observe.  And making the effort to understand and appreciate this culture shows the proper respect it deserves.

I am sure that if enough non Spanish -speakers come to the FILEY, the organizers will include presentations in other languages in the future.

reading 1

FILEY 2015: Yucatan’s International Readers’ Fest

Only a complete recluse would fail to see that Merida is one of Mexico’s most culturally focused cities. There are dozens of venues that can easily accommodate large audiences, and during the past decade, both the state and municipal administrations have increased the frequency of musical and theatrical presentations. Many are free of charge or the admission is nominal. Our city also has an abundance of galleries, cultural centers, shops and parks. There are restaurants that serve every type of cuisine, as well as dance clubs, and street performances.

The writers' craft
The writers’ craft

Certainly there is no shortage of entertainment in “the white city.”

Writers and readers also thrive here. In 2013, the UADY – The Autonomous University of Yucatan – sponsored an event known by its acronym: FILEY, an international festival for book lovers.

FILEY opening ceremony
FILEY opening ceremony
Yucatan's governor and honored guests
Yucatan’s governor and honored guests

Nationally and internationally renowned journalists, essayists, novelists and historians like: Elena Poniatowska, Denise Dresser, Michael Schuessler, Rosa Beltran, and others arrived in our city to give keynote addresses, conferences, workshops and to participate in panel discussions.

Sara Poot and Elena Poniatowske
Sara Poot and Elena Poniatowske

As well, the FILEY provided an opportunity for emerging and established local writers to showcase their work.

At the publishers' fair
At the publishers’ fair

A publishers’ exposition was organized and Merida’s readers had the opportunity to see and buy books from more than 200 editorial houses from all over the country. The first FILEY was successful beyond anyone’s expectations, and the University of Yucatan made a commitment to hold the event annually.

School children participating
School children participating
Learning about using the five senses in writing
Learning about using the five senses in writing

An UADY team now works all year to plan the FILEY. However, no matter how much dedication the local organizers and volunteers are willing to give, the FILEY would never have come to be without a madrina – a godmother – who conceived, promoted, organized and loved it into being. That person is Dr. Sara Poot Herrera.

Eminently specialized in Mexican and Spanish American Literature, Sara is an internationally acclaimed authority of the life and work of the XVII C. Spanish colonial poet, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz
Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Sara has written over one hundred publications, including books, book chapters and papers. Her articles about Carlos Fuentes, Juan Rulfo, Elena Poniatowska, and others, have been published in both academic journals and popular magazines.

She has received prestigious awards for her investigation on Sor Juana and other women writers, Mexican culture, and theater, contemporary romance and short stories. Known as the initiator of the FILEY, she is also co-founder of the UC-Mexicanistas Association, an Intercampus Research Program of the University of California System.

Sara divides her time between her two academic positions at the UADY and the University of California at Santa Barbara. Her love for Yucatan and her devotion to her craft are evident in everything she does.

Last evening, Jorge and I attended the inauguration of La Casa de la Escritora – a retreat-like setting she has created in the garden of her home in Merida’s Santiago neighborhood. Once the FILEY has ended, I will ask her to give me more information about this project.

If you are a foreign resident of Merida, even if you do not speak Spanish, I think that attending the FILEY will help you to understand more about the vibrant city you now call home.

A complete calendar of events is available at the Siglo XXI Convention Center. FILEY events will be held there, from 11 am until 8 pm, until Sunday March 15th

*** Photos: All images of the FILEY are from local news sources

The FILEY in Merida

Although I am forced to cut back on the frequency of my blog posts until I finish the first draft of my new book, I have to share this news with you.

Our fine city is playing host to The International Festival for Readers and Writers in Yucatan (FILEY) at the Siglo XXI Convention Center from the 8th until the 16th of March. (See the schedule of activities ( here )

This event attracts Mexico’s most esteemed authors and last night, Jorge and I attended the presentation of a lifetime achievement award (the José Emilio Pacheco medal) to Elena Poniatowska.

Regular readers of this blog know that Elenita is my favorite writer. She is incredibly generous with her time and resources. In a category of her own, she writes on topics as diverse as her persona. But giving a voice to those who have none is her hallmark.

If you love reading – even if you don’t read in Spanish – you should not miss the opportunity to attend this world class festival. Most of Mexico’s publishers have stands set up, there is music, food, round table discussion and author presentations – something for everyone.