The expat haven named “Best Small City in the World” in 2018 by Conde Nast also hosts the largest, cross-cultural, bilingual literary event in the Americas.
The San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival has brought in thousands of established and emerging authors and publishing experts, as well as avid readers, from the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe.
This year the event celebrates its 15th, or “Quinceañera,” edition. From modest beginnings in 2006 when a handful attended, it now stretches over five days with over 60 presenters and more than 50 daily workshops.
The keynote events attract over 10,000 attendees, with hundreds attending workshops and master classes in writing and marketing. Past keynote presenters include Judy Collins, Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Laura Esquivel, Jennifer Clement, Adam Gopnik, Joseph Boyden, Rita Dove and Jorge Volpi.
Although San Miguel de Allende has long held a reputation for attracting foreign visual artists, it has also been a Mecca for those with an English-language literary bent.
The town has attracted artists since the 1930s, when an art school was established there and foreigners looking for an alternative bohemian center all but abandoned Taxco, Guerrero. It became a retiree haven when some former art students who had been there on the GI Bill after World War II returned to settle in their senior years.
In the 1950s and 1960s Beat writers moved in and out of the town, including Neil Cassady, Vance Packard and Clifford Irving. Various notable works have been penned there over the years, among them Gary Jennings’ Aztec, Charles Portis’ True Grit, and Kathryn Blair’s Shadow of the Angel.
While a number of writers call San Miguel home, even more have spent part of their year here. These include screenwriter Bill Wittliff and poet W. D. Snodgrass. The town has also attracted such well-known Mexican writers as Daniel Sada and Victor Sahuatoba.
Despite the literary history of the town, by 2004 literary readings and similar events had died out. Self-help author Susan Page put an ad in the local newspaper looking for other writers. Twenty-eight people answered and formed the San Miguel Literary Sala. They began with author presentations, and then founded a bookstore that focused on local authors as well as other projects.
The first conference was the brainchild of Jody Feagan, who saw the potential of such an event, given San Miguel’s international status. It attracted 26 participants and was keynoted by organization friend John Berendt (author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil).
Although simultaneous translation into Spanish had always been provided for the major events, events for Spanish speakers and writers were added in 2013.
This year’s conference runs from February 12-16. The keynote speakers include Canadian novelist Madeleine Thein, Native American writer Tommy Orange, storyteller Colum McCann, Mexican writer and academic Rosa Beltrán, Mexican-American writer Juan F. Herrera and non-fiction writer Delia Owens.
All events are open to the public but fees apply. It costs US $115 just to attend the receptions, with prices ranging upwards to $875 to attend all events.
Mexico News Daily