Marisol García Walls is a non-fiction writer born and raised in Mexico City. After the earthquake in September 2017, she started the project Cuéntanos dónde estabas together with Roberto Cruz Arabal to collect and record the experiences of those affected. You can find two of her essays in English translation here and here and one of her more recent essays on material culture here.
How did you start writing?
Recently I found a notebook in which I wrote, 18 years ago, what I remember was my first attempt at writing a novel. I was ten at the time. I was reading Harry Potter and the story was suspiciously familiar. I did my job, though: I numbered the pages, wrote “Chapter one” as a heading, and even illustrated a vignette at the end of the chapter. A few pages later, there’s a note where I confess to my two secret ambitions at the time: becoming a writer of novels —and seeing a fairy in the wild.
The gesture made me smile: I guess I’ve been writing for the most part of my life now. I only started writing professionally four years ago when I took two workshops that explored creative non-fiction and essay writing with two teachers who encouraged me to pursue writing as a career: Mariana Bernárdez and René Nájera Corvera.
What makes Mexico City’s literary scene special?
Mexico City is an amazing place. Some days it seems that there are fifteen things happening simultaneously, and I’m not exaggerating. Sometimes, if I want to go to a book launch, I’ll have to pass on three other events that are scheduled on the same day at the same hour in a different part of the city. The cultural scene is so rich and varied that making decisions becomes an imperative. You just have to admit that you can’t do everything in Mexico City. I don’t know, but I have the feeling that there is not one, but three different literary scenes. And maybe the most interesting things aren’t even happening in the conventional spaces (book presentations, parties, conferences, workshops etc). Since the violence began to escalate, a huge number of Mexican writers educated in academic circles migrated —primarily to the US and Latin America— but they retain a strong sense of place and are involved in interesting (sometimes futile) conversations in social networks. So I’d say what makes Mexico City’s literary scene special is its ability to resettle and relocate in different places.
You are a freelance writer. What does a typical day in your life look like?
In answering your question I realized that, surprisingly for me, my typical day does not involve much writing at all. I teach creative writing workshops for women for a living, so my typical day begins with me preparing my classes, printing photocopies or reading something that I know will help one of my students. I also work as an editor at CECLI (Centro de Estudios de Cosas Lindas e Inútiles; in English Center for the Studies of Cute and Useless Things), which is an international platform devoted to the study of objects and material culture.
When I do write, I usually get very involved with the piece at hand and dedicate a lot of time to that text — sometimes up to eight hours of working straight — so, ideally, my week has at least one day where I don’t schedule any activities. On my “writing days” I like to wake up late and take my time before turning on the computer. I find it easier to get involved in creative activities if I “chain” them, so I try to read first thing in the morning, or work on my experiments with photographs or whatever gets my brain into a creative mood.
You are an avid reader in multiple languages. How does that inform your work?
This question made me laugh, because actually this is often a major source of frustration for me when it comes to my writing. I write mainly in Spanish, but lately I’ve been experimenting with English as well. Sometimes I want to copy a sentence structure from another language (I read in English and German on a regular basis) and when I find I can’t say exactly what I want I often feel discouraged. I’ll try to turn this situation around, next time.
Aside from giving me a lot of independence when I travel, being able to communicate in other languages has led to amazing discoveries. One of my favorite books is Franziska Linkerhand, by Brigitte Reimann, which I bought when I was 18 and living in Berlin for a short period of time. The book was only recently translated into Spanish. I haven’t read the translation yet, but Franziska Linkerhand has been, for many years, a model for the kind of writing I aspire to.
After the earthquake in September 2017, you started the website Cuéntanos dónde estabas. What was the idea behind it and how did it turn out?
On September 20, a day after the earthquake hit, my boyfriend and I wanted to go out to the most affected zones to help. The area where we live was undamaged, but we had friends in other parts of the city and we were concerned, deeply touched and willing to help, as I believe almost everyone was. However, we knew that the most sensible thing to do was to stay home: The city was in such a chaotic state that the authorities actually asked people to do so because the number of people moving from one area to another seriously impacted the speed in which ambulances and help in general could get to those affected by the earthquake.
The feeling of impotence was something we shared with a lot of people, so we thought we could create a website where we would read and publish stories of how people experienced the earthquake. The first day we had maybe 10 stories. We have around 360 now. The idea is to collect these stories and display them in a map, tracing a cartography of affect and emotions that will contrast with the maps that display the places where the earthquake hit the hardest. We had a very clear idea that we wanted this to be a civic and collective attempt at making memory that would contrast the official narrative that “nothing happened”.