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  • Natalie Taylor

THE ART OF WRITING: Why San Miguel is a haven for writers

Good writing can originate in a small rural town, or a major metropolis because writing does not depend on population. It is a solitary craft, regardless of where the writer might be living. But can a writer thrive, and get their works out if they reside in some distant locale, where there may be no publishers, editors, or even other writers?

That quandary was more imperative fifty or more years ago, but one’s locale is much less important in the age of internet. Whether you are sitting at your desk in a tiny village in Central America, or in an apartment in the middle of Manhattan, your international reach can be the same. Agents, publishers, as well as self-publishing is available at the tip of your fingers. What is different, however, is having a supportive network of writers.

San Miguel de Allende is unique as a writing community. On the surface it might seem more similar to a remote village, because the population of San Miguel is closer to a town than a city. However, its cultural and intellectual offerings are nearer to what a metropolis offers. And for a writer, the city provides much more—a thriving, international writing community.

The International Writers’ Conference, held here every February has brought celebrated writers from around the world for many years, to teach, and share their works. The international connection to literature has an interesting connection to the beat poets of the 1960s, who showed up showed up in San Miguel, hung out at local bars, and gathered material for their poems and stories.

The “beats,” as they were called, were part of a bohemian movement that started in the 1950s in California and New York, and the term was originally associated with the word “weary.” The Beats shaped American society of the 50s, 60s, and beyond with their rejection of social norms, their prolific use of drugs, and alcohol. The writers of the beat generation had a major influence on literature, both novels and poetry. One of the literary pioneers was Jack Kerouac, an American novelist, and poet whose book On the Road has become emblematic of the Beat’s philosophy and lifestyle. The main character, Dean Moriarty, was based on a fellow writer, Neal Cassidy. And this is where the San Miguel de Allende connection comes into play.

Cassidy on the left, with Kerouac on the right.

In 1968, Cassidy was in San Miguel to attend a wedding. They say he was drinking heavily, and may have used drugs that night, then went walking along the railroad track. It was a cold, rainy February night, and he was wearing nothing but a T-shirt and jeans. In the morning, he was found in a coma by the tracks, and died soon after. In this manner, San Miguel has been forever tied to the beat generation of writers. And the railroad track a grim reminder of the death of one of them.

Other writers followed in their footsteps, and thought many have continued to frequent the city’s bars, they were perhaps more judicious in their drinking. Through the years, San Miguel has continued to gain popularity as an Avant guard, progressive art and writing center. The International Writers Conference, and the Literary Sala are two of the most prominent literary venues in the city. The former brings writers, editors and agents from around the world for a 10 day conference. The latter is based in the city, and is an ongoing collective of writers and authors who sponsor readings, lectures, talks, and offer other ways to support established and upcoming writers.

In an attempt to get more insight into how the city fosters a writer, I spoke to San Miguel resident and author Ann Marie Jackson. She recently launched her new book, The Broken Hummingbird, with great success. Her lyrical, compelling novel is set in San Miguel de Allende and tells the tale of a woman’s journey toward a new life. When it comes to what makes San Miguel so unique for her, Ann Marie said that foremost, as a writer, it is having a supportive community of other writers. She calls this “your creative tribe,” a trusted group of colleagues who help you with your ideas, and encourage your writing. She has found, and is part of such as a group, and they read and critique each other’s works on a regular basis. Ann Marie says that their input has been invaluable in crafting her novel.

In the photo Ann Marie is shown on the left, with her book on display. On the right stands Hadley O’Regan, owner of Proserpina House, the boutique hotel where the book launch was held.

Aside from the valuable insights and camaraderie offered by a writers group, the stimulation of renowned authors who arrive with the International Writers’ Conference, and the Literary Sala, the city also boasts a new bookstore. Kim Malcom’s Aurora Books is located on Calzada de la Aurora 48A, and is a lovely space where she promotes the works of local authors.

In addition, holiday bazaars and fairs often feature books by locals. One of these, the annual Holiday Bazaar at Geeks and Coffee will be open all day on December 9. Featuring arts and crafts, and other products, it also includes a table with books by local authors, including Ann Marie. Come to meet Ann Marie, and other local authors for fun, good cheer, and inspiration! You may walk out with a book or two for yourself, or to give as a gift.

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