By Mark Saunders
Mark Saunders, Author of “Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak”
This year I was privileged to be a presenter, aka a member of faculty, at the 2013 San Miguel Writers’Conference and Literary Festival. I was also a volunteer and managed the workshops, which for the first time were held in tents as well as conference rooms. In February of 2006, I attended the first-ever San Miguel Writers’ Conference.
What a difference seven years can make. In 2006, fewer than 30 people attended the initial conference; in fact, we had more volunteers than attendees that year. This year, the conference had in excess of 200 attendees—closer to 300 counting single-ticket purchases—and something in the neighborhood of 800 people attended each of the first two keynote addresses.
Full conference attendees could go to their choice of seven out of 56 workshops. I gave a humor workshop for writers, titled “Oedipus and Hamlet Walk into a Bar.” Forty enthusiastic writers were in my workshop and it was a great, interactive 90 minutes. (If you want a free pdf copy of my workshop workbook, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you do not know the writer Luis Alberto Urrea, I urge you to check him out. He gave the best keynote address I’ve ever watched or listened to. He didn’t just knock it out of the park; he knocked it out of several parks. With great animation, he told funny and intimate stories about his parents, his loving but idiosyncratic aunts, and what it was like growing up first in Tijuana and then later in San Diego. Some of these family members and stories ended up in his novels. You might want to start with his novel Into the Beautiful North, which was selected as the Big Read book here in San Miguel this year. Coincidentally, the National Endowment for the Arts in the USA picked it as one of their Big Read books, as well (ahem, we picked it first).
There were three other keynote addresses. The opening keynote address was by Cheryl Strayed (Wild) and she opened on a strong note, setting a positive tone for the conference. Btw, look for the movie based on her book Wild, with Reese Witherspoon in the role of Cheryl.
As it turned out, a common but unplanned thread connecting both Strayed’s speech and Urrea’s speech was the influence of parents. Both authors expressed a regret that their parents had not lived long enough to share in their success.
The conference tagline is: The Creative Crossroads of the Americas. And it truly is a crossroads. Once a year in mid-February, the conference brings together Canadian, American, and Mexican writers and readers for a celebration of writing. There were so many highlights and bragging rights about the conference, that I’m going to give you taste with a few photos, all taken by professional photographer Charlotte Bell. Don’t forget to check out her many other photos of the conference, especially the Mexican Fiesta, which was probably the best party, bar none and hands down, I’ve ever attended. To see more conference photos, go to www.charlottebell.com
I hope to see you at next year’s conference (for more details on this year’s conference, don’t forget to visit www. http://sanmiguelwritersconference2013.org/
Luis Urrea (author of “Into the Beautiful North”) delivered the best keynote address I’ve ever heard—and I’ve been to a lot of conferences.
Cheryl Strayed, author of the best-selling sensation “Wild,” set the tone with an enthusiastic opening keynote address.
We had eight 90-minute workshops running simultaneously twice a day, in tents (for the first time) and conference rooms.
Audiences enjoyed the general sessions and keynote addresses.
The book store was a popular site, busy from opening to closing.
Perfect weather made it easy to enjoy the outdoors with friends.
Many attendees took time out to read.
The Mexican Fiesta had it all. From indigenous dancers…
… to local cuisine, hot off the grill…
… to a closing fireworks display. See you at next year’s conference!