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By Talin Vartanian
February 7, 2013
7:55 AM

Filed under News

Multicultural San Miguel Writers’ Conference considered “the NAFTA of literary festivals”

For the past eight years, San Miguel de Allende, an idyllic colonial town in central Mexico, has played host to the San Miguel Writers’ Conference, the only bilingual literary event in North America that focuses on Canadian, U.S., and Mexican authors.

Unlike many other festivals that cater primarily to readers, San Miguel has become a gathering place for writers to share their craft, meet with literary agents, and attend workshops and parties. Canadian writer and Kingston WritersFest artistic director Merilyn Simonds, who spends her winters in the community, calls the event “the NAFTA of literary festivals.”

In keeping with the multicultural focus, the conference, which takes place from Feb. 13 to 18, provides Spanish-English translation services for attendees and keynote speakers that represent the three countries. Canadian novelist Lawrence Hill is in the spotlight this year, alongside best-selling author Cheryl Strayed (Wild) and Mexican poet, novelist, and Pulitzer Prize nominee Luis Alberto Urrea.

“I was very turned on by the notion that [San Miguel] involves Mexican, American, and Canadian writers and has a bilingual component,” says Hill. “This is a cool way to step into another country. Who wants to go as a tourist?”

Conference co-founder and director Susan Page observes: “Americans and Canadians, especially those living in Mexico, are highly motivated to learn about Mexican culture. We provide an opportunity to become better acquainted with distinguished Mexican writers. And vice versa, for Mexicans to become better acquainted with American and Canadian writers.”

The conference traces its roots to 2004, when Page, an American expat, organized a meeting of local writers. Dubbed the San Miguel Literary Sala, the group continues to host readings, signings, and literary events throughout the year. The conference started modestly in 2006 with a couple dozen attendees and now attracts high-profile names like Barbara Kingsolver, Erica Jong, Rebecca Walker, Tom Robbins, and Margaret Atwood, who was last year’s Canadian keynote speaker.

This year’s conference coincides with the Mexico-Canada Cultural Festival, which takes place from Feb. 16 to 24 in Tepoztlàn, a popular tourist destination near Mexico City. The festival features music, literature, and visual arts from both countries, with a focus this year on fiction-writing journalists. Canadian speakers include Linden McIntyre, Russell Wangersky, Merilyn Simonds, Wayne Grady, and Carol Off.

Festival co-founder and local bookstore owner Bridget Galsworthy says she started the event because she felt “the American link to Mexico had perhaps been overworked, and the Canadian literary scene is one of the most vibrant in the world. Mexicans are intrigued by Canada, and there’s a sense of wanting to reach across the borders and get to know each other.”

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