Essay

The literary scene in Yucatan

by Fer de la Cruz

 

In the state of Yucatán, where decentralization is only a political slogan, literary things happen mostly in its capital city: Mérida. In a way, things are rocking among the chaos of UNESCO´s “City of Peace”: 2 schools of creative writing have been founded within the past 3 years: 1) Escuela de Creación Literaria (where I teach) of the State Institute of Fine Arts, in which Spanish and Mayan-speaking adults earn a 3-year degree in Creative Writing, and workshops are offered for children and teenagers. 2) Escuela de Escritores Leopoldo Peniche Vallado belongs to the State Institute of Culture (ICY), which is currently in the process of becoming a Ministry—so much for descentralización! Both schools are inconveniently located in the same building, across from the zoo. On the other hand, two universities, one public, one private, have been graduating Literature majors for a decade. And there´s a number of private workshops throughout town.

Back to the issue of centralism, the only living Yucatecan writers who have been truly influential (big names like Agustín Monsreal and Raúl Renán) have resided in Mexico City for decades. Also, Raúl Cáceres Carenzo resides in Toluca; Jorge Pech in Oaxaca; Reyna Echeverría in New York… Among those who reside within the state borders are those who are native Yucatecans (Francisco Lope Ávila, Roger Metri, Jorge Lara, José Díaz Cervera, Lourdes Cabrera, and Mayan writer Feliciano Sánchez Chan, to name some) and those born elsewhere who must be considered a part of the community of Yucatecan writers, such as Cuban-born Raúl Ferrera Balanquet and maestro Jonathan Harrington, who calls himself Orgullosamente yucagringo.

There are two main independent groups of writers: Centro Yucateco de Escritores, A.C. (CYEAC), which was created over 2 decades ago, has been hosting an on-going workshop, a magazine (Navegaciones Zur), an has its own publisher (Ediciones Zur). Also, five years ago or so, la Red Literaria del Sureste was created as an alternative. Some politically active writers from both groups hold public offices. There are also those with academic credentials in literature, such as Manuel Iris, Ph.D. candidate; Jafet Israel Lara, Ph.D. candidate; Cristina Leirana, M.A., and your humble Fer de la Cruz, M.A. The rest have never heard of Terry Eagleton.

There are lots of writers, it seems. The problem is, local bookstores show little interest in marketing their works. To publish a book, one may submit it to the editorial council of either ICY or Ayuntamiento de Mérida. If selected, the book will be published but not necessarily promoted. One may also try her/his luck in state or nation-wide literary contests for money and/or publication. Librerías Dante sponsored 2 contests for publication. The second batch of 10 authors from all three states of the Yucatan Peninsula is being published this year. Other than that, there is no such thing as agents or talent-hunters, and big name publishers appear only on display, especially for those who lack political connections.

So, how do local writers earn their daily bread? They pray: Some pray to God; some (with political connections) prey on smaller fish. Those who don´t hold a public office may have steady jobs in private institutions. There are those with two, three, or even four part-time teaching jobs, whose paychecks (in the case of public schools) may be delayed for periods of five months year after year. Some writers may be asked to present a book, write a prologue, or preside over a public event without pay. Some others are invited to jury in a literary contest, with pay—the honest ones are seldom called for the latter.

New generations of local writers are starting to emerge. Also, new generations of critics are earning degrees in literature. There is hope that these young professionals learn to separate art and politics and that the way things are may actually be challenged without losing one´s job.

Better laugh than cry in México´s “safest city.” Following the steps of maestro Agustín Monsreal, I have become a satirist who hopes not to have disappointed the readers with my view on things, since writing is my way of making the world a better place.

 

 

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photo by Dan Griffin


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