There’s questioning in Susan Page’s voice as to why The News reporter insists on covering her activities as organizer of the yearly San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival.
“We have so many famous writers coming in and the conference is only getting bigger and bigger. This year we expect to fill up at least 10 times the main hall at Real de Minas Hotel which holds about 900 persons per keynote speaker session in its main hall. That’s close to 10,000 listeners in attendance. The festival is about the writers, not about me,” she said.
But that is just the point. Those writers would not be in San Miguel de Allende were it not because someone invited them to come, made arrangements for their presentations or spent the past year meticulously putting together every detail in what’s become the biggest English language literary event outside of any English speaking nation in the world. Susan Page’s feat is greater because Mexico is most definitely not one of those nations.
To boot, the conference is not an isolated affair, but the offshoot of the organization of constant literary events through the umbrella organization called San Miguel Literary Sala, (sala means living room in Spanish) which holds readings of local and guest authors on nearly a weekly basis.
Another reason for making Susan Page the subject of this profile interview is that The News has been covering the Writers’ Conference on a yearly basis since 2010, and Susan Page gets tucked in the backroom given the shining importance of the glow some of the visiting writers emit. But in the end, they would not be here were it not for the daily ant-likes work of our interviewee.
What do you personally get from organizing this event?
Being an organizer has been one of the most important principles in my life. I organize people for organizations, I organize ideas for books. That’s one of the most important things for my own writing that I organize ideas and present them well. Also, I enjoy the relationships with the people. I’d much rather be on a team working with an other person or people on a project than just go out for lunch and talk about the weather. I really enjoy working together with people.
What do you get?
We bring in a lot of people and writers and this is my chance to meet them personally. I very much look forward to meeting them.
Would you have access to them otherwise?
Probably not, no. When would I ever have a chance to meet Gloria Steinem? Last year she was here and came to our home and I had a lovely meal with her. So that’s a very special treat. She is but one of many famous people I’d never get a chance to meet on a personal basis.
What do these famous people attending get from participating?
They really like San Miguel and our conference. Many of the faculty teaching the workshops tells us “this is the best conference I’ve attended.” It’s a beautiful setting, it’s a beautiful town and it’s a very well organized conference. The energy of the workshops teaching staff and the quality of the keynote speakers is just right. And we are not just a writers’ conference but a literary festival.
Besides would-be writers and writers, who else attend the conference?
People who love to read. We put out conferences called “The Treasures of Reading.” This year we have conferences about literature by jesters and how history has been in literature. It’s heraldic literature. We have a conference about the Popol Vuh, the holy book of the Mayans. And there is a conference about the history of spiritual literature from Rumi and the Sufis all the way to contemporary spiritual writings. As you see, there is a lot of variety and themes readers don’t get to hear live. And [there’s] also one about clichés in writing.
In past years when I look for you during the conference I just see the flash of you passing by.
I’m busy looking at details. That’s kind of frustrating because I don’t get to attend many of the workshops and working with the keynote speakers.
Do you feel you’re missing something?
I do, I do. But the good news is that we record all of the workshops and all of the keynoters and they are available and can be downloaded from our website after the conference. I listen to the tapes of some of the workshops that I missed. Anyone can download from our website and buy a keynote address. I think it’s about 100 pesos each.
Can you describe a typical conference day?
The schedule is pretty much the same. We have workshops in the morning, and there’s a lunch break and a keynote address at 2 p.m. There’re a lot of activities going on in the afternoon in which you can read your own work in an open mike session, you can take your work to a literary agent and you can have an individual consultation with a faculty member about your own work. Those are individual sessions. Then at 6:30 p.m., we have a major keynote address.
What about relaxation and entertainment?
We have a Mexican fiesta on Friday night, and on Saturday we’ll have a very special event for our Grand Patrons so that they can have dinner with one the keynote speakers. It’s a round table and you can choose the keynote speaker you prefer. That’ll be at a beautiful private home with a gorgeous view.
What is a Grand Patron?
We have an opening reception on Wednesday night. The opening reception is for Grand Patrons, these are people who have bought our full package and the great majority comes from out of town. At the opening reception people are welcomed by people dressed as, for instance Mark Twain and Gertrude Stein, and acting as literary figures.
The Grand Patron membership is $750 dollars and that includes all of the keynote speakers, the private dinner with one of the keynote speakers and several other benefits.
What other packages do you have?
There’s a full conference package that includes everything except the intensive workshops. Then there is one called The Whole Enchilada and that includes two intensive workshops on Saturday. With The Whole Enchilada you also get to have a round table discussion with one of the keynote speakers. And then there’s the basic package that includes all the keynotes and the workshops. But that’s all, no parties or receptions. There are four types of participation.
Are you sold out for this year?
We are very close but we have a few packages left.
What can people do to register?
The website is the best place to register. You can buy individual tickets to individual keynote events. You can also attend movies on Saturday and all that is in the website. You can just click individual tickets and it’s all listed there.
What about the physical setting of the conference?
The Hotel Real de Minas? It’s a beautiful setting because it has gardens outback and we put tents back there where we hold our workshops. Our bookstore tent is out there. The fiesta is at Instituto Allende and it’s a blast Mexican party.
Who are the writers coming to the conference?
We have people from the U.S. and Canada as the largest majority of participants. But we have people from Europe, we have one from Bali this year, but attendees are mostly from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
What use do you put proceedings to? The Literary Sala is a non-profit organization and all the people assisting you in organizing this huge event are volunteers mostly Americans from San Miguel de Allende. And I must say from what I’ve seen in past years this is a very expensive festival to carry out.
Right. The conference is self-supporting and the admissions allow us to do more than break even. We are supporting a number of literary projects around San Miguel. We have, for instance, a program for children’s initiation in reading where we have distributed 800 books in Spanish and when the children have read and studied it we bring the author to visit all these farming communities to talk to the children. It’s so exciting for the children.
We have a program called My First Book which is reading appreciation for very young children. We will also in the near future be supporting a mobile library and we do our monthly readings year-round. We have a literary café.
You have so many presentations. I get all your invitations and there seems to be so many writers in San Miguel de Allende.
It’s a mecca for writers. There are many well-known writers working her.
What’s in the bookstore?
We have books from past and present keynote speakers and books available written by the entire teaching faculty. There are books from over 100 authors on display. People are welcome to come to the bookstore whether they are or not involved in the conference. We’re all set now to welcome those attending but like I said, we still have tickets left for those writers and readers willing to rub elbows with a lot of writers.
The San Miguel Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival will be held from Wednesday Feb. 15 to Sunday Feb. 19 at the Real de Minas Hotel in San Miguel de Allende.
Tickets are still available and the full star-studded program is at www.sanmiguelwritersconference.org.