Elena Poniatowska (Paris, 1932), appeared on the stage of the Palace of Fine Arts last Thursday, May 19. The venue was an agglomeration of deafening applause. The writer celebrated her 90th birthday and the country paid tribute to her. Her white dress matched her hair and smile, which was incessantly written on her face. Her microphone asked for her hand, she received her voice in sketchy shyness. Her speech was inked into a chronicle and life essay, with a conclusion of gratitude: “Thank you. Thank you is a very beautiful word and I tell you from here, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you”. Elena smiled again. The orchestra sang Las Mañanitas.
Elena Poniatowska’s 90th birthday caused quite a stir in the Mexican intellectual world. A woman with six names and more than thirty books, her pen has obtained important recognitions such as the Cervantes Prize (2013), the Brief Library Prize (2011), the Alfaguara Novel Prize (2001), the Mazatlán Prize (1992), the Bellas Arts (2014), among numerous other awards for literature and journalism.
In his long career, Poniatowska has had ties to La Laguna. A letter addressed to doña Olga de Juambelz y Horcasitas (founder of Siglo Nuevo), records that she first visited the region in 1988. The newspaper library of El Siglo de Torreón indicates, at least, four other arrivals: in April 1991, when he attended a congress of the Tecnológico de Monterrey at the Isauro Martínez Theater (TIM); in June 1993, when he presented his book Tinísima in the auditorium of the Faculty of Administration and Accounting; in March 1997, when she attended the Ibero Torreón Book Fair as a guest; in April 1999, when she presented The Words of the Tree, a biography of Octavio Paz, at the Chamber Theater of the Autonomous University of Coahuila (UAdeC).
Poniatowska has also collaborated with several texts for El Siglo de Torreón and prefaced the book Beyond a Look by Doña Olga de Juambelz y Horcasitasvolume published by this publishing house.
But in addition, the writer has forged more ties with the region, colleagues who have had the opportunity to turn on her recorder and talk with her. These are two Lagunero writers and journalists, also collaborators of El Siglo: Vicente Alfonso and Angélica López Gándara.
Woman without corners
It was the year 1999 and Elena Poniatowska arrived at the Chamber Theater of the UAdeC, to address the life of Octavio Paz between the pages of The words of the tree. Vicente Alfonso, who had begun reading the writer’s work with La noche de Tlatelolco, attended the conference, which would begin at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, April 30, along with other colleagues from the university.
“I remember because we had, right by the location of the boulevard (Revolución), a small student radio station, which could only be heard a couple of blocks around (or maybe a little more). We interviewed her and she agreed very generously. We talked with her, precisely about The Night of Tlatelolco and the book The Words of the Tree”.
From the chronicle of his memory, Vicente Alfonso does not hesitate to affirm that Elena Poniatowska’s contribution to Mexican literature and journalism is fundamental, since at 90 years of age she has not stopped writing or conducting interviews. Her impetus achieved that the name of a female could stand out in the newspapers, be seen before titans of Mexican art and culture, use choral techniques and also give a voice to women with few opportunities.
“In Hasta no verte Jesús mío, she spent two years reporting, talking with a woman who had been the wife of a participant in the Mexican Revolution and recounts all the adventures she and her husband had. And it is a wonderful chronicle, at the same time that it is a novel, it is a wonderful chronicle of those times in our country”.
Similarly, I sawAlfonso has had the opportunity to interview Poniatowska on other occasions. One of those dialogues was published by El Siglo de Torreón in September 2014, titled. The lagoon farmer and the teacher talked about the writer José Revueltas.
“They are always very warm and unassuming conversations. Doña Elena is very open, very intelligent and she says things as she thinks. There are no folds, there are no twists and turns in what she says and they are always lessons, not just about journalism or literature, but about life”.
Recently, Elena Poniatowska commented on the book On the edge of the road (UANL, 2021) by Vicente Alfonso. Listening to the reading aloud of that text, the writer confesses to being moved and emphasizes the importance of having recognized her in life.
“We were slow to recognize her […] That these recognitions arrive for the work of Mrs. Elena, it seems to me that it is to put us up to the task, because it has been a life of work, as was seen in the tribute of Fine Arts. I really liked that, on the stage where the different numbers were presented, there was always a woman who represented her with a typewriter, because she defines herself that way. I have heard her say several times that she has been a woman who has spent her life behind her typewriter. And I think that is the essential journey of her: to investigate aspects of reality, to go back and write it. I think that she, more than enough, deserves an award like the Nobel Prize”.
Dr. Angélica López Gándara regrets not being able to attend the tribute, but affirms that she will see Elena Poniatowska in a few weeks. She also had the opportunity to meet her during the 1999 conference at UAdeC. She remembers that to the event she brought copies of La flor de lis and The words of the tree, which the author signed and dedicated to her.
López Gándara goes back more years in her story, and remembers herself as a medical student, only 20 years old and in an introductory stage to reading. It was then that Dear Diego, Quiela hugs you, came into her hands. She then entered La flor de lis, where she was able to venture into the childhood that Poniatowska lived in France before she turned 10 years old and her family brought her to Mexico to flee World War II. “The fleur-de-lis reflects a lot of the European, post-war environment that she lived in Paris.”
In 2015, the doctor made the decision to look up Poniatowska’s email, write to her and request an interview. The negotiations were successful. Poniatowska responded and the meeting was arranged at Elena’s house, south of Mexico City. López Gándara arrived at the address with the notebook full of questions and nerves. The questions and answers became a text that was published in El Siglo de Torreón with the title Poniatowska Siempre Firm, received the Coahuila State Prize for Journalism, and was translated into Greek for publication in Koralli magazine.
“She is an extraordinarily serene woman, who has an ability to listen to you. If I tell her about my tragedy, she will listen to me as if only I existed. She is not like that dispersion that most of us have, that’s why I tell you that you don’t learn that, she is like that, she was born like that, she has the ability to concentrate on only one thing”.
About the tribute made in Fine Arts, the doctor celebrated the lucidity and memory of the writer and described as wise that this recognition has been made.
“Elena Poniatowska represents us in a world. I like that she is a woman, because she not only represents herself, but she comes from the coexistence of the most prominent minds in Mexico. She was a close friend of Octavio Paz and, although Gabriel García Márquez is not from Mexico, he lived very close to her house. Carlos Fuentes, José Emilio Pacheco, she was close to these people who have already died. She said it in her tribute, that everyone was younger than her. And well, that is life and destiny, but it is important to me that, although those who influenced her were men, she has done for and written about women”.
We wish to thank the writer of this post for this remarkable content
Laguna feathers recognize the legacy of Elena Poniatowska after her tribute