Creative writing workshops and lectures in Spanish offer unique opportunities for Rice, UH students

The Latin American Writer-in-Residency Series brings high-profile Spanish-language authors from across the world to Houston

Interest in Spanish-language creative writing programs is growing across the U.S., from the Master of Fine Arts degree in Spanish creative writing in 2012 at the University of Iowa to the Ph.D. in Spanish with a concentration in creative writing now offered at the University of Houston.

Gisela Heffes, associate professor of Latin American literature and culture, has partnered with the University of Houston to bring important Latin American authors to campus.

Gisela Heffes, associate professor of Latin American literature and culture, has partnered with the University of Houston to bring important Latin American authors to campus.

Gisela Heffes, associate professor of Latin American literature and culture, has kept this in mind for years as she’s brought an increasingly robust series of Latin American creative writing programs to Rice.

To that end, she’s partnered with University of Houston professor and creative writing program director Cristina Rivera Garza to bring important Latin American authors to Houston for an ongoing series of lectures and workshops. The first lecture, by Puerto Rican author and poet Mayra Santos-Febres, took place Feb. 6.

“This is the first initiative to happen between the Hispanic Studies department at UH and the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at Rice,” Heffes said. “That’s a big thing because you know, we’re always talking about collaborations and this is a really good way of doing that.”

The workshops take place at the University of Houston and are attended by Owls, writing alongside their Cougar counterparts. The lectures, which are free and open to the public, take place in Rice’s Sewall Hall; they are offered entirely in Spanish.

The next speaker in the Latin American Writer-in-Residency Series Lectures is Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil, an indigenous Mexican writer and linguistic rights activist who has defended speakers of indigenous languages such as her own, Mixe. Aguilar Gil’s talk, “Diversidad lingüística y tradiciones poéticas” (“Linguistic diversity and poetic traditions”), will take place Feb. 20 at 5 p.m.

Claudia Salazar Jiménez, the literary critic and Peruvian novelist who is among the best-known writers of her generation, will visit Rice for a lecture March 3.

Two popular Bolivian writers will close the series March 24: journalist and short story author Magela Baudoin, who won the 2015 Gabriel García Márquez Spanish American Short Story Award, and Giovanna Rivero, one of Bolivia’s most successful contemporary fiction writers.

Latin American Writer-in-Residency flyer 2020

Bringing in a variety of writers from across genres and countries was important to Heffes. So was ensuring a diversity of scale: Some of the authors do smaller, community-based work while others aim for larger, broader audiences.

“There are so many people working in Latin America doing beautiful projects, whether it’s editing, publishing, writing, performing in the streets, bringing art to the streets or the less affluent neighborhoods — you know, they’re doing public humanities,” Heffes said. “So we’re trying to bring these types of writers and have them here for a while.”

Each of the authors coming to Rice for the Latin American Writer-in-Residency Series will stay in Houston for at least a week.

In addition to the lecture and workshop, they will write a 10- to 15-page paper on their experiences in Houston.

At the end of the series, Heffes and Rivera Garza will publish these five Latin American writers’ reflections on Houston, along with the essays written by four Latin American authors who visited Rice last year during another lecture series, in a book.

“We’re interested in their eyes — how they see things here — because we are so embedded in the way we see Houston,” Heffes said. “Sometimes when you have somebody from outside, he or she might notice things we may not because we’re used to it.”

As with the lectures, the book will be in Spanish. This is in keeping with two of Heffes’ other pursuits: documenting Spanish-language perspectives of the U.S. and publishing in Spanish.

The next speaker in the Latin American Writer-in-Residency Series Lectures is Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil, an indigenous Mexican writer and linguistic rights activist who will speak Feb. 20 at 5 p.m.

The next speaker in the Latin American Writer-in-Residency Series Lectures is Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil, an indigenous Mexican writer and linguistic rights activist who will speak Feb. 20 at 5 p.m.

She has, since 2014, collaborated with Houston-based Literal Publishing to produce and archive books, plays and other works by important Latin American authors. Several volumes are available online in the ever-expanding digital repository “Archiving the Future: The Recovery of a Heritage in the Making” housed in Rice’s Digital Scholarship Archive.

Besides the lectures, workshops and eventual book, Heffes is recording video interviews with the authors for archival purposes. It’s work that, taken as a whole with the series, the printing press and other collaborative endeavors, she hopes will lead to even more opportunities for Rice in the future.

And as a writer and professor, she’s excited by the opportunities the Latin American Writer-in-Residency Series presents for learning from such a wide variety of voices. She’s optimistic Rice and UH students will be similarly inspired.

“It’s really nice to see how each writer prompts you to write in different ways,” Heffes said. “And this is something that, you know, you won’t find anywhere else in the United States.”

All lectures in the Latin American Writer-in-Residency Series begin at 5 p.m. in Sewall Hall, room 309. They are free and open to the public.

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.