Francisco Goldman's letter

Susana García Iglesias

First Winner of the Aura Estrada Prize

Last November 13th, 2009, at the opening event of the 29th Oaxaca Book Fair, the first winner of the Aura Estrada was announced. Susana García Iglesias won for her fiction submission, Barracuda, praised by jury president Margo Glantz for "the enormous force and charisma of a risk-taking writing whose fury combusts like pyromania." Susana is a buoyant, effusive young woman, a lifelong resident of downtown Mexico City – Barrio Emiliano Zapata en el Centro Histórico -- whose charm and fast wit beguiled us all, singing like Ella Fitzgerald at her press conference, regaling us with her enthusiasm for Elvis and obscure rockabilly bands, for fast and antique cars, and eloquently describing her writing as a memory-driven art that she compares to following "a hunting dog." Susana studied literature at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, from which she recently graduated, and has worked a bartender, a dog stylist, a street dog activist – well, better to read her own biographical statement, included here below. The five-woman jury was headed by Margo Glantz, one of the eminences of contemporary Spanish language literature. She was joined on the jury by Cristina Rivera Garza, one of her generation's leading writers, twice the winner of the Sor Juana Prize, and also by three accomplished contemporaries and friends' of Aura: Monica de la Torre, who has published several volumes of poetry in both Spanish and English and is the editor of Bomb magazine; Gabriela Jauregui, whose first collection of poetry, Controlled Decay, was recently published by Akashic Books and who is a member of the sur+ publishing collective in México; and Vivian Abenshushan, author of two books of fiction and essays and co-founder of the innovative independent publisher, La Tumbona. The jury read nearly seventy submissions. On the final day, in discussions that began at nine in the morning and ended just before midnight, they selected Susana over runner-up Verónica Gerber.

Also on the opening night of the Oaxaca Book Fair, Aura Estrada's book of selected writings, Mis Días en Shanghai, published by Almadía, was publically presented in an event at which the jury members, novelist Alvaro Enrigue and the book's editor, the young poet-critic-fiction writer Luis Jorge Boone, spoke about Aura's writing.

That night in Oaxaca, Monica de la Torre remembered that it was at Aura's funeral that we'd first mentioned the possibility of creating a prize in Aura's memory and of publishing a book of her writings. (Aura was shy and protective of her work; only a few of us knew how special it was.) In the ensuing months we and other of Aura's close friends, such as Gaby, Fabiola Rebora, Vanessa Manko, Natalia Pérez, Juanca López and Rebecca Brian, sometimes discussed which of the two was the best way to honor Aura—to in Aura's name assist another young woman writer to go forward in her career, or to at least symbolically realize Aura's own dream by bringing her amazing, brilliant, mischievous, tender talent to the world in a published book—as if only one of the two were possible. That November Friday night in Oaxaca we had to acknowledge our astonishment and pride in what we'd accomplished, achieving both of these goals on the same night.

The Aura Estrada Prize Committee would like to thank everybody who has generously contributed to our prize for their role in making that night in Oaxaca possible, especially for the joy in Susana's face and in her words, and also in ours, as we realized that this first prize—like a hunting dog—could not have found a more ideal winner.

Susana García Iglesias's bio:

Day job: Bartender and dog stylist. Pastime: writer. Interests: dogs, cocktail mixology, photography, old cars, high speed, rock and roll, literature. Born in Mexico City's historic center, thrown out of an endless series of schools for bad conduct, she fled college in terror in order to keep writing but went back a decade later to close the circle. Has never participated in any kind of creative writing workshop; thinks of literature as a solitary practice.

Finalist in a 2004 short story competition sponsored by a famous Spanish publishing house, she was not encouraged; instead, the experience knocked her off balance for a long period, during which she forgot an entire novel in a taxi after a wild night at the Plaza Garibaldi. The envelope, which contained both the back-up CD-ROM disk and the only print-out of the manuscript, was never recovered; she took that for a sign that bad times are gone in an instant. (The novel must have contained some bad times.) Correctly or incorrectly, she understands literature as something like being a bartender, carpenter, or street sweeper. "Literature is a tough trade that doesn't raise you above anything or anyone. On the contrary –– it's a job where the writer is constantly taking punches to the liver or the heart."

Has devoted the greater part of her life to writing, which she may do rather badly even so, but at least she's been tenacious. Currently serves drinks to survive, distills vodka by her own rudimentary methods, takes in dogs from the street and styles them. For the moment, is working on her sixth novel, "The Line Ahead," which is about something that doesn't exist: the future. Her seventh novel is in process.

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