- Teaching Mexico’s Remarkable Writer
Those of us who work in the field of interdisciplinary studies, we often work from a variety of approaches and thematic collaborations. Diálogo’s goal, furthermore, is to include a wide range of issues in the humanities and social sciences. The current issue is an examination of pedagogical approaches to teaching about Mexico, through the works of the extraordinary and prolific writer, Elena Poniatowska. Journalist as well as novelist, Poniatowska has often used her work to bring issues of social justice to the forefront.
“Pedagogy” can conjure multiple responses in the academy. In some cases, journals shy away from discussions of “how we teach,” preferring more theoretical approaches to critical research. And yet, during Ph.D. preparation in most of our disciplines, our studies are oriented by both theory and practice. Most academics, in fact, spend considerable time teaching classes, and mostly to undergraduate students. The current theme opens a discussion on how we involve our students in the process of learning about Mexico, and in more universal terms, the responses of people and societies to political repression, disasters and other difficult realities of the contemporary era. Discussions on “how to teach” great writers and canonical texts are occurring in other publishing venues. We chose to center our study on how to teach the innovative narratives of Mexico’s contemporary writer, Elena Poniatowska.
The contributors who responded to our call represent a wide variety of disciplines and teaching experiences at both U.S. and international universities—from Mexican scholars and artists to those who study Mexican literature. In each case, the contributors have a longstanding connection to Poniatowska’s insightful subject matter and are dedicated to the reception, and understanding, of her texts by students.
Guiding and assembling this first issue of 2014 has been especially enjoyable for me. I have admired Elena Poniatowska and marveled at her texts through the years, beginning in 1990 when I selected her first published text, Lilus Kikus, to translate and as the subject of my master’s thesis (M.A., New York University). I first met her when I was a new assistant professor, and have frequently heard her talks and been present for homenajes dedicated to her at numerous conferences. Since each writer in this issue has been touched by Poniatowska, and her outstanding writing, we were especially thrilled to hear of her selection for the prestigious Premio Cervantes 2014 a ward—the highest honor in Spanish-language letters—often called the “Nobel prize” of Spanish and Latin American literature. She will receive the award in a ceremony held in April in Spain.
Poniatowska’s books are numerous: The first was published in 1954, followed by five in the 1960s, four the next decade, six the following, eleven in the 1990s, 22 in the first decade of the new century, and five between 2010-13 (please peruse the Chronology). It would be impossible for this issue to include articles enough to cover all of her texts. Even so, the collection presented here delves into works that invite examination from a variety of perspectives, including current critical studies in disability and human subjects, textual and structural hybridity, techniques of new media, the art of biography, artistic prowess, geographic and historical settings. From in-depth research to teaching and learning applications, to shorter reflections on the impact of particular texts, and two evocative interviews, we hereby present a guide to Mexico’s great contemporary writer, the latest recipient of the highest accolade for distinguished writing.
Those of us who teach her works are acutely aware of how her books have affected us through the years: We have discovered in her writing unique turns of phrase, deeper meanings between the lines, and scintillating images. Perhaps one of the most powerful narrative frames of her texts is the way Poniatowska brings the words and presence of so many extraordinary historical characters into our understanding. Major occurrences of Mexican contemporary history have been documented in her books—the 1968 massacre of students, and the earthquake of 1985—as well as the stories of remarkable figures, including protestors and political prisoners, great artists, and other figures who...