Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Elena Poniatowska: Between the Lines of the Forgotten: Acclaimed for Her Powerful Journalism Revealing Social Injustices, This Contemporary Mexican Writer Is Also Known for Her Poignant and Disturbing Fiction

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Elena Poniatowska: Between the Lines of the Forgotten: Acclaimed for Her Powerful Journalism Revealing Social Injustices, This Contemporary Mexican Writer Is Also Known for Her Poignant and Disturbing Fiction

Article excerpt

In the evening of October 2, 1968, friends came to Elena Poniatowska's house, where she was caring for her baby born four months earlier, and told her that the peaceful demonstration held in the historic Tlatelolco square ended with government troops killing hundreds of people. She responded, "No, that's impossible." They told her elevators had been perforated by machine guns, and tanks were parked in the square. The next morning Poniatowska went to the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco to investigate for herself. She saw dried blood everywhere; shoes and personal items were scattered about the plaza. Women were searching for their children who never came home the night before, and people who lived in the apartment buildings surrounding the plaza were hauling buckets of water; their electricity and water had been shut off since the previous afternoon. They recounted hearing helicopters, loud explosions, and guns firing throughout the night.

As difficult as Poniatowska found the scene and the comments she was hearing, her journalist mind took over, began collecting reactions, and later conducting interviews with people in jail or relatives of those who had disappeared. Just over two years later she published La noche de Tlatelolco [Massacre in Mexico, 1992], an intriguing chronicle that collects and contrasts citizens' quotes with official accounts. She was the only journalist who was able to publish an account of the Tlatelolco incident until two decades later.

Similarly in 1985, following the devastating earthquake in Mexico City, when rescue efforts were fumbled and delayed by bureaucracy, Poniatowska joined many other people who worked for weeks on end painstakingly removing stones mad attempting to get victims free who were buried under the rubble. The human effort and sadness of this crisis were related in Poniatowska's book published two years later, Nada, nadie, las voces del temblor [Nothing, Nobody: The Voices of the Mexico City Earthquake, 1995].

This is Elena Poniatowska--one of Mexico's greatest contemporary writers, recognized as the voice of the people, the spokesperson for those erased and unacknowledged by the empowered. Since first embarking on newspaper writing in 1953 (at age twenty), Poniatowska has published thirty-five books. Many are nonfiction, journalistic writing, but she has also managed to scatter three collections of short stories and seven novels throughout her trajectory. Her fiction is quite different from that of contemporary, best-selling women's novels that entertain with cooking and love stories; instead, Poniatowska's novels and short stories are philosophic meditations and assessments of the roles of women, the disenfranchised, and society itself. Although better known as a journalist, Poniatowska prefers creative writing:

"All of my life my strongest desire has been to create [write fiction], but they keep asking me to do this or that journalistic essay, to interview this or that person. If I could have my wish, my ideal would be to only write stories, novels. To pursue one's own ideas."

Unlike male counterparts who often cite the Latin American "Boom" generation's few internationally recognized male writers, Poniatowska has always highlighted women's literary and artistic contributions in the early twentieth century in a world that pretended to believe no women wrote before Like Water for Chocolate was published. Poniatowska's recent Las siete cabritas (2000) is a collection of essays on seven prolific and fascinating females who seemed radical because they produced their art despite the barriers put before them. Poniatowska, likewise, consistently pursued her writing in the 1950s and 1960s despite dismissals of her work as ingenue interviews and "children's" literature. For fifty years, she has continued to contribute articles to newspapers and magazines, she is regularly involved in both the social and political scene in her nation, and she frequently makes presentations at home and abroad (she is fluent in French, English, and Spanish). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.