Mexico makes its voices heard at this year’s Hay Festival Querétaro

“The more Mexican literature is read, the less clear it will be to everyone what Mexican literature really is. This is a good thing; a ‘happy ending’ of sorts, as anything that can be pigeonholed is not worth understanding,” said Mexican author Valeria Luiselli at the London Book fair in 2014: this seems truer than ever.

Mexico’s literary scene is among the most diverse in the world, and Hay Queretaro 2018 highlighted the amazing range of individuals creating work - across genres, generations, and languages. The festival does more than just present these authors to readers – authors were presented to one another, with new discussions and intersections sparking from panels and events.

The programme was studded with established and emerging talent, from Peruvian-Mexican novelist Mario Bellatin and novelist-essayist Jorge Volpi, to emerging talent like Jazmina Barrera. The sessions touched on topics from last year’s earthquake in new anthology Tiembla, to historical fiction.

Hubert Matiùwáa also appeared to discuss indigenous literature, bringing to light the under-told stories of the mè’phàà community of Mexico’s Guerrero state, and discussing the use of literature as tool of protest.

Also profiled at Hay Queretaro were the Bogotá39: a selection of 39 writers in Latin America under 40, seven of whom are from Mexico, whose work is featured in an anthology which came out earlier this year. A number of these writers appeared at this year’s Hay Querétaro, speaking across topics as diverse as they themselves are.

Nurturing new talent at the festival goes further than just the programme of events: the British Council’s Elipsis programme is running for the first time in Mexico this year, with aspiring writers and editors attending events and collaborative sessions with professionals. The programme supports young writers and editors in developing their voices, with mentorship of an author and editorial support for their first work. The writers and editors are currently developing a book which will launch in March 2019.  

Elipsis writer Julia Bravo Varela said, “The festival is a great force for putting Mexican literature out into the world, and it has opened a world of opportunities for me personally. We’ve been exploring all elements of the process of writing, returning to ourselves and examining our own processes. All of the writers have been so open in sharing their experiences with us.

Giselle Gonzalez Camacho, an Elipsis editor agreed, saying, “There are so few development opportunities for young editors– basically only Elipsis: the workshops with publishers Sextopiso were incredible in showing us how books really work as an industry: distribution, sales, etc – it’s been great.”

Thankfully, more and more of these writers are now available in English: the Bogotá39 anthology has been translated, and some of Bellatin and Volpi’s works are available in English. You can find a taster of Matiùwáa’s work in the Asymptote Journal, which publishes international and translated Latin American writing - often even before it is published in English.