Poniatowska, Elena 1932-
Poniatowska, Elena 1932-
Born May 19, 1932, in Paris, France; emigrated to Mexico 1942; naturalized Mexican citizen, 1969; daughter of John E. and Paula Poniatowska; married Guillermo Haro (an astronomer); children: Emmanuel, Felipe, Paula. Education: Educated in Mexico and the United States, including Manhattanville College. Religion: Roman Catholic.
Home—Cerrada del Pedregal 79, Coyoacan, ZP 21, Mexico City, Mexico. Office—Novedades, Balderras 87, Mexico City 1, Mexico.
Excelsior, writer, 1954-55; Novedades, Mexico City, Mexico, staff member, beginning 1955. Instructor at Injuve; founder of Editorial Siglo XXI (a publishing house), Cineteca Nacional (a national film library), and Taller Literario. Visiting professor at universities, including Yale, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and the University of California; lecturer and speaker in the United States, Mexico, and Europe.
D.H.C. from University of Sinaloa and Mexico State; D.H.L. from the New School for Social Research and Atlantic University; fellowships from Centro de Escritores, 1957, the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1993, and the Guggenheim Foundation, 1994; Premio de Periodismo from Turismo Frances, 1965; Premio Mazatlan, 1970, for Hasta no verte Jesus mio; Premio Villaurrutia, 1970, for La noche de Tlatelolco: Testimonios de historia oral; Mazatlan Award for Literature, 1972 and 1992; Premio de Periodismo,
Revista Siempre, 1973; Premio Nacional de Periodismo, 1978; national journalism award, 1979; El Porvenir award, 1986; Manuel Buendia award, 1987; national Juchiman awards; Premio Internacional Proartes award (Colombia), 1997; Gavriela Mistral award (Chile), 1997; Premio Alfaguara award, 2001, for
La piel del cielo; Legion of Honor (France), 2004; emeritus fellowship from National Council of Culture and Arts (Mexico).
IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION
Hasta no verte, Jesús mio, Ediciones Era (Mexico), 1969, translated by Magda Bogin as Until We Meet Again, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1987, translated by Deanna Heikkinen as Here's to You, Jesusa!, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2001.
La noche de Tlatelolco: testimonios de historia oral, Ediciones Era (Mexico), 1971, translated by Helen R. Lane as Massacre in Mexico, introduction by Octavio Paz, Viking (New York, NY), 1975, reprinted, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1991.
Querido Diego, te abraza Quiela, Ediciones Era (Mexico), 1978, translated by Katherine Silver as
Dear Diego, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1986.
Tlacotalpan (in English and Spanish), photography by Mariana Yampolsky, Instituto Veracruzano de la Cultura (Veracruz, Mexico), 1987.
Nada, nadie: las voces del temblor, Ediciones Era (Mexico), 1988, translated by Aurora Camacho de Schmidt as Nothing, Nobody: The Voices of the Mexico City Earthquake, Temple University Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1995.
(With Amy Conger) Compañeras de México: Women Photograph Women (in English and Spanish), University of California Art Gallery (Riverside, CA), 1990.
Frida Kahlo: The Camera Seduced, photographs by Ansel Adams, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1992.
Tinisima, Ediciones Era (Mexico), 1992, translated by Katherine Silver, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 1996.
Mexican Color, photographs by Amanda Holmes, Stewart, Tabori and Chang (New York, NY), 1998.
(With Iris H.W. Engstrand and Richard Griswold del Castillo) Culture y Cultura: Consequences of the U.S.-Mexican War, 1846-1848 (in English and Spanish), Autry Museum of Western Heritage (Los Angeles, CA), 1998.
El Niño: niños de la calle, Ciudad de Mexico: Children of the Streets, Mexico City (in English and Spanish), photographs by Kent Klich, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1999.
La piel del cielo (novel), Alfaguara (Col. del Valle, Mexico), 2001, translated by Deanna Heikkinen as The Skin of the Sky, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.
Lilus Kikus and Other Stories, translated and with introduction by Elizabeth Coonrod Martínez, illustrated by Leonora Carrington, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 2005.
Las Soldaderas: Women of the Mexican Revolution, translation by David Romo, Cinco Puntos Press (El Paso, TX), 2006.
Lilus Kikus, Los Presentes, 1954, expanded edition published as Los cuentos de Lilus Kikus, Universidad Veracruzana (Xalapa, Mexico), 1967.
Meles y teleo: A puntes para una comedia (play), Panoramas, 1956.
Palabras cruzadas: cronicas (title means "Crossed Words"), Ediciones Era (Mexico), 1961.
Todo empezó el domingo (title means "Everything Started on Sunday"), illustrated by Alberto Beltrán, Fondo de Cultura Economica (Mexico), 1963.
Mexico visto a ojo de parajo, 1968.
Premio Villaurrutia, 1970.
El Primer primero de Mayo, Centro de Estudios Historicos del Movimiento Obrero Mexicano (Mexico), 1976.
La vendedora de nubes, 1979.
Gaby brimmer, Grijalbo, 1979.
De noche vienes (stories; title means "You Come at Night"), 3rd edition, Grijalbo (Mexico), 1979.
Fuerte es el silencio (title means "Silence Is Strong"), Eras Cronicas, 1980.
La casa en la tierra, 1980.
Domingo 7 (title means "Seventh Sunday"), Oceano (Mexico), 1982.
El último guajolote (title means "The Last Turkey"), Cultura (Mexico), 1982.
(With Gilberto Bosques) Pablo O'Higgins, Fondo Editorial de la Plastica Mexicana, Banco Nacional de Comercio Exterior (Mexico), 1984.
Ay vida, no me mereces! (title means "Life, You Don't Deserve Me"), J. Mortiz (Mexico), 1985.
La raiz y el camino, 1985.
Estancias del olvido, 1986.
Serena y alta figura, Oceano (Mexico), 1986.
Hablando en plata, 1987.
Mexico sin retoque, 1987.
La flor de Lis (title means "The Flower of the Lily"), Ediciones Era (Mexico), 1988.
Juchitan de las mujeres, photographs by Graciela Iturbide, Ediciones Toledo (Mexico), 1989.
Todo Mexico (title means "All of Mexico"), Editorial Diana (Mexico), 1990.
La Muchacha (screenplay), 1990.
Manuel Alvarez Bravo: el artista, su obra, sus tiempos, Banco Nacional de Mexico (Mexico), 1991.
México indio, photographs by Guillermo Aldana, Inver-Mexico (Mexico), 1993.
Patriota y amante de usted: Manuela Sáenz y el Libertador: diarios inéditos, Editorial Diana (Mexico), 1993.
Mazahua, photography by Mariana Yampolsky, Gobierno del Estado de Mexico (Toluca, Mexico), 1993.
(Editor, with Carlos Monsivais) EZLN: Documentos y Comunicados, photographs by Paula Haro, Ediciones Era (Mexico), 1994.
(Translator) Sandra Cisneros, La casa en Mango Street, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
Luz y Luna, Las Lunitas, photographs by Graciela Iturbide, Ediciones Era (Mexico), 1994.
(With Richard Payne) Gerrero Viejo, Anchorage Press (Houston, TX), 1996.
Paseo de la Reforma, Plaza y Janés (Barcelona, Spain), 1997.
Juan Soriano, niño de mil años (biography), Plaza y Janés (Mexico), 1998.
Cartas de Alvaro Mutis a Elena Poniatowska (correspondence), Alfaguara (Col. del Valle, Mexico), 1998.
Octavio Paz: las palabras del árbol, Plaza y Janés (Mexico), 1998.
(With others) O'Gorman, Bital Grupo Financiero (Mexico), 1999.
Las soldaderas, Ediciones Era (Mexico), 1999.
Siqueiros en Lecumberri: una lección de dignidad 1960-1964 (interview with artist, David Alfaro Siqueiros), Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (Mexico City, Mexico), 1999.
Las mil y una: la herida de Paulina, Plaza y Janés (Barcelona, Spain), 2000.
Todo México, tomo VI, Editorial Diana (Mexico), 2000.
Las siete cabritas, Ediciones Era (Mexico), 2000.
Mariana Yampolsky y la buganvillia, Plaza y Janés (Mexico), 2001.
(With Salvador Arias and Salvador Montes) Barranca de Metztitlain: reserva de la biosfera/Alicia Ahumada, Barranca de Metztitlaan Reserva de la Biosfera/ Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas (El Paso, TX), 2002.
(Author of text, with Raul Ortega) De fiesta: celebraciones tradicionales en Chiapas, Turner, 2003.
Tlapalería, Ediciones Era (Mexico City, MX), 2003.
Miguel Covarrubias: vida y mundos, Ediciones Era (Mexico City, MX), 2004.
Obras reunidas I: Narrativa breve, Fondo de Cultura Econoimica (Mexico), 2005.
El tren pasa primero, Alfaguara (Col. del Valle, Mexico), 2005.
Also author of screenplay Hasta no verte, Jesus mio, Producciones Barbachano Ponce; author of introduction to Cartucho and My Mother's Hands, by Nellie Campobello, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1988; and, with Mario Monteforte Toledo, to Beatriz Caso (in English and Spanish), Thomson Galeria de Arte Misrachi (Mexico), 1994. Contributor to El Primer Primero de Mayo, Centro de Estudios Historicos del Movimiento Obrero Mexicano, 1976. Work represented in periodicals, including Revista Mexicana de Literatura, Siempre!, Rojo de vida y negro de muerte, Estaciones, Abside, La Jornada, El Financiero, El Dia, El Nacional, Revista de la Universidad, Fem, Vueita, Nexos, Proceso, Punto, and Evergreen Review. Writings have been translated into numerous languages including English, French, Italian, German, Danish, and Dutch.
De noche vienes was adapted for film, 1997.
Elena Poniatowska is a respected and well-known journalist contributing to several of Mexico's finest newspapers and periodicals, and the author of many books of fiction and nonfiction. Born in Paris to a Polish father and Mexican mother, Poniatowska emigrated with her family to Mexico when she was ten years old. A few years later, she was sent to Philadelphia to attend the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Following study at Manhattanville College on a scholarship, Poniatowska began her journalism career by interviewing key Mexican literary and political personalities. Soon becoming an industrious reporter for Novedades, she conducted an interview a day, with a production goal of three articles per week, according to a Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor. In an interview in Bloomsbury Review, Poniatowska commented: "I see myself mainly as a journalist. I always said to myself: ‘When I get older. I'll have more time to write literature!’"
A common thread running through Poniatowska's writing is a blending of both fiction and journalism. Several of her books are based on the correspondence of, or interviews with, real persons, such as muralist Diego Rivera's common-law wife and the photographer Tina Modetti. However, Poniatowska tends to focus on the marginalized elements of Mexican society, including the poor and women. Frequently, she places females as the protagonists of her fiction, revealing their strength of character in the face of a patriarchal Mexican society. Her use of colloquial language for her characters provides a voice for the lower classes.
Her early novel, Hasta no verte, Jesús mio, later translated as Here's to You, Jesusa!, is based on a year of interviews with Josefina Borquez, an illiterate washerwoman. The narrator of the story, the aging dark-skinned Jesusa Palancares, recalls a life of discrimination, brutality and poverty. Wendy Gimbel commented in the New York Times Book Review that "in writing a so-called ‘testimonial novel,’ Poniatowska borrows freely from more than one literary form." Gimbel added that the primary influence on this novel comes from the Latin American tradition of the testimonio. "Unlike autobiography, which is personal and often poetic," wrote Gimbel, "the testimonio is basically a survival story, establishing credibility by means of language that is direct, never ambiguous. Reading Poniatowska's book is like taking in the evidence in a courtroom." Gimbel pointed out that in sharp contrast to Borquez, Poniatowska is the descendant of Polish kings and the daughter of a Mexican aristocrat. She was educated at English schools when she came to Mexico as a child and first learned Spanish from the household servants.
"The legacy of Poniatowska's own childhood, like her characters'," remarked Gimbel, "was the feeling that her country was indifferent to her. But unlike many writers, she did not want to solve the problem by creating a compensatory universe. Rather, she wanted her writing to give her access to the actual world, to a Mexico she could claim as her own." Review of Contemporary Fiction contributor Sophia A. McClennen commented that Poniatowska's language "conveys the brutal life of Jesusa while also portraying her as strong, witty, resilient, and spiritual. Alternating between curses, terse phrases, refrains, and sparse descriptions, the language captivates us with eloquence." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Here's to You, Jesusa! a "passionate and unflinching classic."
Poniatowska writes almost exclusively in Spanish, though several of her books have been translated into English. La noche de Tlatelolco: Testimonios de historia oral, later translated as Massacre in Mexico, recounts Poniatowska's experiences in Mexico City during the 1968 student riots. J.A. Ellis explained in Library Journal that Poniatowska's Massacre in Mexico is "the story of the continuing tragedy of Mexico." Ellis added: "The mood ranges from the early heady optimism of the students … to shock and despair." In a Commonweal review, Ronald Christ stated that Massacre in Mexico is a "shatteringly beautiful book," adding: "Recording everything she could about the incident and the events that led up to it, Poniatowska has assembled what she calls ‘a collage of voices,’ a brilliantly edited text whose texture is the weaving of anecdote, official history, gossip, placards, graffiti, journalism, eye-witness accounts, agonized interpretation."
Dear Diego, the translation of Poniatowska's Querido Diego, te abraza Quiela, is a fictionalized reconstruction of the correspondence between the internationally famed artist Diego Rivera and his common-law wife of seven years, Russian painter Angelina Beloff. Written in the voice of Beloff, Dear Diego is a series of twelve imaginary letters describing the emotions and thoughts the young woman must have experienced after her lover leaves their home in Paris to return to his native Mexico. Although hopeful at first that Rivera will send for her and they will be reunited, Beloff eventually realizes that they will never be together again.
Barbara Probst Solomon explained the premise of this book in the Nation, noting that the book "is about a heated ménage Ȥ trois between Diego Rivera, his Russian émigré common-law wife, Angelina Beloff, and the jealous third lover, art itself. Poniatowska's narrative … blends real documents with her own imaginative reconstruction of Angelina Beloff's relation to Diego Rivera. Exactly how much of this is Poniatowska and how much is drawn from actual documents is not made clear, and since Rivera was a real person, the reader can't help filling the gaps in this impressionistic novella with what is already known about him." "The novella's subject is longing," wrote Hayden Herrera in the New York Times Book Review. "Angelina tries to span the ocean separating her from Diego with a bridge of words. Her mood shifts from despair to anger to nostalgic affection. We feel her growing apprehension that his absence is permanent. As we share her struggle with loneliness, poverty, and illness, we come to admire her determination to survive." Haden went on: "Although she was abandoned, she was not a loser. To be able to love as she did was a gift."
After ten years of research, Poniatowska published Tinisima in Spanish. In novel form, it tells the tale of Tina Modetti, an Italian artist and photographer who immigrated to San Francisco from Italy when she was seventeen. She later moved to Mexico and became the photographer Edward Weston's lover. She also had liaisons with Diego Rivera and other Mexican cultural and political contemporaries and became a communist militant. World Literature Today critic Cristina Ferreira-Pinto wrote of this work that it "is a novel that certainly involves the reader. It stimulates much reflection, and the issues it addresses, through its portrayal of a woman, a country, and a time, are disturbingly contemporary."
In Octavio Paz: las palabras del árbol, Poniatowska, a close friend of the Nobel laureate of the title, who died in 1998, provides insight into his life and writing, which encompassed subjects as diverse as Aztec art, Buddhism, and economic reform. Cesar Ferreira wrote in World Literature Today that "while a more critical eye might have been desirable in Poniatowska's narrative, it is unquestionable that Paz's life remains an example of the old-style commitment of the Latin American intellectual."
Library Journal contributor Jose M. Fornes felt that Poniatowska "offers a rich text that is full of anecdotes yet remains sharply analytical."
In La piel del cielo, published in English as The Skin of the Sky, Poniatowska tells the story of Lorenzo de la Tena, who from his days as a peasant youth on the farm sought the answers to life's bigger questions. He eventually attends Harvard University on an astronomy scholarship and returns to Mexico, where he continues to seek the truth by fighting the government and injustice. He eventually becomes disillusioned with these struggles, and then infatuated with young Fausta Rosales, whom he rapes. "Working with … intellectual characters, Poniatowska is able to demonstrate her formidable erudition," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. In a review in Booklist, Donna Seaman called Poniatowska "a profoundly sensuous writer, and she vividly and purposefully describes earthly life." Christina Martinez, writing in the Library Journal, described the novel as "thought-provoking and challenging."
Lilus Kikus and Other Stories includes four stories, an essay, and an illustrated novella. The title novella was written in 1954 and shows the grown-up world through a child's eyes. The short stories include a tale about a nurse who may be keeping five lovers, which relates to the author's "common theme of women finding meaning in a society where men dominate," according to Tina Stepp in Library Journal. "With each piece, a new facet of Poniatowska's rich stylistic vocabulary is revealed," attested a Publishers Weekly contributor.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 113: Modern Latin-American Fiction Writers, First Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Jörgenson, Beth Ellen, The Writing of Elena Poniatowska: Engaging Dialogues, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1994.
Americas, March-April, 2005, Elizabeth Coonrod Martinez, "Elena Poniatowska: Between the Lines of the Forgotten," p. 46.
Bloomsbury Review, December, 1992, review of Frida Kahlo: The Camera Seduced, p. 11; May-June, 1996, interview with Elena Poniatowska, p. 9.
Booklist, January 1, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Tinisima, p. 921; February 1, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of Here's to You, Jesusa!, p. 1040; September 15, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of The Skin of the Sky, p. 208.
Commonweal, January 16, 1976, Ronald Christ, review of Massacre in Mexico.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2002, review of Here's to You, Jesusa!, p. 13; August 15, 2004, review of The Skin of the Sky, p. 771.
Library Journal, June 1, 1975, J.A. Ellis, review of Massacre in Mexico, p. 1136; January, 1995, p. 77; January, 1999, Jose M. Fornes, review of Octavio Paz: las palabras del árbol, p. 80; January 1, 2001, Mary Margaret Benson, review of Here's to You, Jesusa!, p. 156; June 1, 2001, Adriana Lopez, "Elena Poniatowska Wins Esteemed Alfaguara Prize," p. 7; August, 2001, Marta Lucia, review of The Skin of the Sky, p. S38; September 15, 2004, Christina Martinez, review of The Skin of the Sky, p. 50; June 15, 2005, Anne Berard, review of Here's to You, Jesusa!, p. 119; November 1, 2005, Tina Stepp, review of Lilus Kikus and Other Stories, p. 71.
Los Angeles Times, December 27, 1998, Bob Sipchen, "Finding Vitality, Vivacity in the Palette of Mexico"; April 9, 2001, Tim Rutten, "Literary Candor, Straight from Latin America," p. E1.
Nation, August 2, 1986, Barbara Probst Solomon, review of Dear Diego; October 28, 1996, Ilan Stavans, review of Tinisima.
New York Times Book Review, July 20, 1986, Hayden Herrera, review of Dear Diego, p. 12; November 17, 1996, Dorothy Gallagher, review of Tinisima; March 18, 2001, Wendy Gimbel, "Walking the Chickens."
Pacific Historical Review, August, 2000, Elliott Young, review of Culture y Cultura: Consequences of the U.S.-Mexican War, 1846-1848, p. 508.
Publishers Weekly, January 22, 2001, review of Here's to You, Jesusa!, p. 302; September 20, 2004, review of The Skin of the Sky, p. 45; October 24, 2005, review of Lilus Kikus and Other Stories, p. 38.
Race and Class, April, 1999, Chris Searle, review of Tinisima, p. 98.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 2001, Sophia A. McClennen, review of Here's to You, Jesusa!, p. 157.
School Library Journal, September, 2001, Marta Lucia, review of The Skin of the Sky, p. S38.
Seattle Times, May 13, 2001, Fionn Meade, "Outcast's Story Goes to Heart of Mexico," p. 8.
Symposium, spring, 1998, Kimberle S. Lopez, "Internal Colonialism in the Testimonial Process: Elena Poniatowska's Hasta no verte, Jesús Mio," p. 21.
Washington Post Book World, June 3, 2001, Nina King, "Mother Courage," p. 7.
Women's Review of Books, July, 2001, Emma Perez, "A Life to Remember," p. 31.
World Literature Today, autumn, 1989, Charles A. Piano, review of La Flor de Lis, p. 658; winter, 1994, Cristina Ferreira-Pinto, review of Tinisima, p. 90; autumn, 1999, Cesar Ferreira, review of Octavio Paz, p. 706.
Culturebase.net,http://www.culturebase.net/ (September 8, 2006), information on Elena Poniatowska and her works.
Elena Poniatowska Home Page,http://www.elenaponiatowska.com (September 8, 2006).
International Center for Writing and Translation,http://www.humanities.uci.edu/icwt/ (September 8, 2006), profile of Elena Poniatowska.
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (September 8 2006), information on Elena Poniatowska film adaptations and credits.
Penn American Center Web site,http://www.pen.org/ (September 8, 2006), brief profile of Elena Poniatowska.