The Joy and Pain of the San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival

The effects of an outstanding conference can be hard to capture. I can get close by observing that The San Miguel Writer’s Conference left me feeling grateful that my writing muscles had been massaged by expert and loving hands. Fibres were stretched and knots resolved. The experience, as anyone who has had a deep massage knows, comes with considerable pain.  Wincing, yelping and groaning from the client on the table are the sounds that let the masseuse know she has found the problem. The physical effects from this conference were not dissimilar: my head hurt for four days. But It wasn’t a headache that a pill would treat. Instead it was the sense that neurons were being kneaded, boundaries were exploding, and new synapses were growing. And while all of that and more was happening above my clavicles, my heart was bursting with joy as I engaged with a tribe of fine thinkers/questioners/writers.

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Merilyn Simonds

The San Miguel Writers’ Conference is a celebratory tri-cultural event (Canada, Mexico, USA). We Canadians were well represented: steering committee and faculty member, Merilyn Simonds; keynote speakers (Joseph Boyden and John Vaillant); and faculty members (Myrl Coulter, Laurie Gough, Sandra Gulland and Leanne Dunic ).

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Joseph Boyden and his harmonica.

Emma Donoghue who was a keynote for Sunday was a last minute cancellation. We missed her, but her family in Ireland needed her more than we did; Emma’s mother died early in the week. Benjamin Alire Sáenz filled in for her and spoke as only a gay Mexican-American can about the wounds inflicted by the dominant culture. For a writer who spent his teaching career being marginalized by his department, his current success as a bestselling author of young adult fiction is perhaps the best revenge. He, I suspect, would be too modest to acknowledge that reality.  It was that level of intimate sharing about writing lives that made each of the keynotes a rousing and affirming experience.

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Myrl Coulter

It’s with some pride that I note that cultural affairs departments for both Canada and Mexico were significant supporters of the conference, along with corporate sponsors. That support helped to defray the cost of the conference which was $590 USD for the basic fee.  For Canadian writers who are suffering under our current federal copyright challenges that’s a sack full of loonies.

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Leanne Dunic

Was the conference worth the financial cost and the psychic pain? Yes, absolutely. I overcame self-censure and terror sufficiently that I participated twice in Open Mic and once in a creative writing workshop. My confidence was inspired by the welcome and generosity of poet, Judyth Hill, and writer, Tawni Waters.

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Laurie Gough

If that were not enough, I was gobsmacked by one faculty member’s suggestion that I may have material for a one woman play. I leave San Miguel de Allende and its fine weather, feeling more capable, more attentive, and ready to take risks.  Will I return? As a writing colleague has noted on her licence plate—UBETCHA!

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, the story of how one family manages the experience of palliative care with hope and humor despite sibling conflicts, generational pulls and career demands. Autumn’s Grace is a powerful commentary on the need for well-organized and well-funded palliative care in private homes and in residential hospices. It’s a gift to people who wish to be prepared as they help fulfill the final wishes of a family member or friend. 


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  1. Andrea

    One woman play? I know just the actor! We’ve had the pleasure of seeing several plays starring former HSC parent Susan Fullerton. Loved them and her – keep her in mind.

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