R.I.P.: Montemayor, Mexican Literary Giant, Renaissance Man
In a world of clipped discourse and fleeting images, Carlos Montemayor stood apart from the mainstream. A student of ancient and modern languages, Chihuahua’s native son promoted Maya, Zapotec, Guarani and other indigenous poetry of the Americas. The 62-year-old scholar wrote acclaimed books, received prestigious literary awards and contributed regularly to publications including the daily La Jornada and the national news magazine Proceso. A lover of the musical arts, he found time to sing opera.
Mexico’s literary giant and Chihuahua’s Dean of Letters is now dead. Born in Parral, Chihuahua, in 1947, Montemayor succumbed to stomach cancer early on the morning of February 28 in Mexico City. Less than three months earlier, in December 2009, Montemayor was handed Mexico’s National Arts and Sciences Award by President Felipe Calderon.
A novelist, poet, essayist, teacher, translator, researcher, and tenor, the multi-lingual Montemayor was perhaps most of all a defender of the dispossessed.
As a young university student in Chihuahua City in the 1960s, Montemayor witnessed first hand a mass movement of small farmers for land. He even met youths who felt compelled to take up arms for the first guerrilla movement in Mexico after the Cuban Revolution.
Later, while residing in Mexico City, Montemayor was stunned to hear the idealistic young people in Chihuahua who were willing to lay down their lives for a greater cause officially described as bandits, cattle rustlers and delinquents.
“This is what really affected me, because I knew their honesty, their cleanliness, their integrity, their militancy, their generosity, ” Montemayor once told a Mexican reporter. “This impression of how the official version can brutally destroy the truth of human life marked me forever.”
Coming of age in a time of social and political upheaval, Montemayor was considered by many to be Mexico’s leading expert on left-wing guerrilla movements. After carefully researching the movements from all angles, and talking directly to survivors of the struggles, Montemayor wrote two novels that dramatically retold the stories of the armed uprisings of the 1960s and 1970s.
Montemayor’s classic 1991 work The War in Paradise relived the guerrilla movement and dirty war that jolted the southern state of Guerrero in the 1970s. A later novel, Arms of the Dawn (2003), employed the same technique of historical fiction to retell the story of the 1965 attack on the army barracks in Madera, Chihuahua, by revolutionaries led by Arturo Gamiz and Dr. Pablo Gomez, both of whom were slain in the attack.
The author of numerous writings, Montemayor was the recipient of the Juan Rulfo International Prize, Xavier Villaurrutia Prize and the highest recognition awarded by the State of Chihuahua: Gawi Tonara: Pillars of the World.
In one of his last interviews, he described his literary perspective: “I am a writer for whom the landscape constitutes not only geography, but a vital element of human action and narrative and, above all, of the comprehension of life.”
Regarded as a contemporary cultural icon, Montemayor reportedly mastered English, Italian, Latin, French and classic Greek. He was a member of the Mexican Academy of Language, the Royal Spanish Academy and the Association of Writers of Indigenous Languages.
Recently, Montemayor served on the mediation commission set up to help broker an agreement between the Calderon administration and the guerrilla Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) on clarifying the disappearances of Edmundo Reyes Amaya and Gabriel Alberto Cruz, two high-ranking EPR leaders allegedly detained by state security forces in Oaxaca in May 2007. Last year, the mediation commission was dissolved after its members declared that the Mexican state did not have the political will to get to the bottom of the matter.
Ironically, Montemayor died during the 100th anniversary year of the 1910 Mexican Revolution and only days before his latest book, State Violence in Mexico, was due to hit the stands. Published in the Mexican press, excerpts from the book showed Montemayor’s penchant for critical analysis.
Common threads of state repression, he noted, include surgical strikes in the dead of the night against undefended populations, the isolation of “enemy” communities and the treatment of women as war booty. Montemayor cited the rape or sexual assault of 26 female detainees by police in the rebellious town of San Salvador Atenco outside Mexico City in May 2006. “The silence, complicity and even distortion of television, radio and the printed press are very useful,” observed the author.
La Jornada called Montemayor’s passing “a grave loss for the country” at one of the “worst moments” in the nation’s history. “The country is really going to miss his social passion and his rigorous analysis, his creativity, his serenity, his independence, and his commitment. An indispensable figure has died on us,” the newspaper’s editors said.
Carlos Montemayor was cremated in a private Mexico City ceremony last weekend. He is survived by his wife Susana de la Garza and four children: Victoria, Alejandra, Jimena and Emilio.
Sources: Proceso/Apro, February 28 and March 1, 2010. Articles by Gloria Leticia Diaz, Armando Ponce and Columba Vertiz de la Fuente. La Jornada, February 28 and March 1, 2010. Articles by Monica Mateos-Vega and editorial staff. Arrobajuarez.com, February 28, 2010.
This article originally appeared on Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news, Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico
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Minnesota Puerto Rican graphic artist Ricardo Levins Morales has created a poster to benefit Nuyorican poet Tato Laviera who is facing major health and housing challenges. The poster is available here for $10.95. Half the proceeds go to Tato's support fund. They are also available for discounted bulk purchase to sell at events. Please forward this message widely. You can also click this link to The Point, to donate directly. None of the donations will be released unless we meet the goal.
More on Robert Arellano up for Edgar Award!
Robert Arellano was nominated by Mystery Writers of America for a 2010 Edgar Award in Best Paperback Original for his book Havana Lunar, which was reviewed last year by La Bloga's Michael Sedano. The Edgars are named after the legendary Edgar Allan Poe, and are considered the “Oscars” of the mystery genre.
Arellano has strong ties to Cuba and the Cuban-American community in the United States. His family fled Cuba in 1960, but has since returned to the island ten times. He has chronicled the Revolution through journalistic pieces, essays, novels and songs. Arellano’s culturally diverse background and wealth of knowledge incorporate historical and current information about Cuba within the context of his books.
More information about The 2010 Edgars can be found here. E-mail Andrew Pistone or call 212-319-7566 if you would like to arrange an interview.
Call for essays/fiction/reviews on Latin American writers
The "Mischievous Literary Arts Journal" Antique Children is preparing its second quarterly journal on Latin American Writers, due out in May. We’re looking for writers to pen creative essays on these Latin American Writers or review these books. You may write a piece of fiction but it must envelop one of these writers and their selected book.
For example: You may write a story about your transvestite grandfather who carried a copy of Jose Donoso’s Hell Has No Limits in his bra as he went in search of the characters depicted in the book. Thus, you have to read the book yourself and review it through your own work of fiction. Or you may write a straight essay/review of:
Ernesto Sabato "The Tunnel" (Argentinean)
Juan Carlos Onetti "A Brief Life" (Uruguayan)
José Vasconcelos Calderón "The Cosmic Race" (Mexican Philosopher)
Martín Adán, pseudonym of Rafael de la Fuente Benavides “The Cardboard House” (Peruvian)
Juan Mar a Montalvo Fiallos “Chapters Cervantes Forgot” (Ecuadorian)
Salvador Garmendia Graterón “Memories of Altagracia” (Venezuelan)
Subcomandante Marcos and Paco Ignacio Taibo II “The Uncomfortable Dead” (Mexico)
“I, Rigoberta Menchu, An Indian Woman in Guatemala” (Guatemalan)
Julio Cortázar “62: A Model Kit” (Argentina)
We're also seeking an in-depth essay on Honduran writer Lucila Gamero de Medina.
Go to AntiqueChildren for more info.
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