Here’s your word for the day: triduum. A triduum is the official term for special religious observances or festivals that take place over a three-day period (like Día de los muertos, which actually takes place between October 31 and November 2).
In honor of Día de los muertos, let’s take a look at just a few of the Mexican writers who deserve your reading time this week. And while there is literature on this list dating to before the Spaniards showed their faces in Central America, the arrival of the Spanish language blended into Mexican storytelling as seamlessly as Spanish religion blended into indigenous tradition to create Día de los muertos itself.
The poeta: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was born in 1651, in Nepantla de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a town that now bears her name in her honor. She was the illegitimate daughter of a criolla woman and a captain in the Spanish army. She learned how to read and write by the age of three, could keep accounts by the age of five, wrote her first poem at the age of eight, and was teaching Latin by the age of thirteen. At the age of sixteen, she got her mother’s permission to disguise herself as a male and attempt to attend university in Mexico City; although she was found out, she continued her studies in private. Abruptly, at the age of twenty—after five years of living at court as the Vicereine’s protégée—she became a Heironymite nun. Her poetry formed the base of both Mexican literature and Golden Age Spanish literature, but after writing a letter to defend women’s right to education, she was condemned by the archbishop and forced to undergo penance for her “wayward” practices, including writing, reading, and scientific study. Various collections of her poetry and letters now exist.
The Nobel Prize for Literature winner: Octavio Paz was born in Mexico City in 1914, in the midst of the Mexican Revolution. His grandfather was a liberally-minded novelist and publisher, so Paz had access to literature from an early age. He discovered the European poets of the 1920s, and at the age of seventeen published his first book of poems. Two years later he published another book of poems, and in 1932 started a literary review magazine. In 1937 he left law school to teach, and continued to write. He traveled extensively, taught at Harvard, and won numerous prizes for his poetry. He was awarded the 1990 Nobel Prize for Literature, the only Mexican writer to win the prize to date.
The love story writer: Laura Esquivel was born in Mexico City in 1950. Her most famous novel, Como agua para chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate), is set during the Mexican Revolution and is built around magical realism and an episode in her own family history. The book was adapted into a movie in 1992, and more than twenty years later is still the 8th highest-grossing foreign film in the United States. Her newest novel, released in 2006, is Malinche, a retelling of the near-legend of the woman who served as Cortez’s interpreter and mistress.
The autobiógrafo: Francisco Jiménez was born in Tlaquepaque, and was moved to the United States at an early age. Cajas de carton (The Circuit), his first autobiography, focused on his elementary years as the child of migrant workers in the United States: his struggles with the language barrier, changing schools every few months, and the reality of life in the migrant camps. Senderos fronterizos (Breaking Through), his second autobiography, begins when he is fourteen years old and is deported from California. The family struggles to remain together while facing extreme poverty and the prejudice of the late 50s and early 60s. His third autobiography, Más allá de mí (Reaching Out), focuses on his efforts to continue his education and earn a college degree. Jiménez received his master’s and doctorate from Columbia University, and is now the chairman of the Modern Language and Literature department at Santa Clara University.
The Shannon & Elm offices will be closed from Thursday, October 30th through Monday, November 3rd in observation of Día de los muertos. While our offices are closed, we may not respond to inquiries, but please follow us on Twitter and Facebook to receive any news or updates.