An Introduction To Mexico City Literature In 10 Writers

© Penguin Books / Octavio Paz | © Jonn Leffmann/WikiCommons
© Penguin Books / Octavio Paz | © Jonn Leffmann/WikiCommons
Photo of Lauren Cocking
Northern England Writer1 November 2016

It should come as no surprise that a vibrant metropolis like Mexico City, one of Latin America’s largest and most heavily populated urban areas, has produced some incredible journalists, poets and authors, nor that it has also been the setting for some of this century’s greatest texts. However, who are the must-read local writers from the Mexican capital? Here are our top 10.

Carlos Monsiváis

Political activist and journalist Carlos Monsiváis was a leading intellectual of his time, counting Carlos Fuentes and Emilio Pacheco as professional contemporaries. Well known for delving deep into social issues and confronting topics such as class and politics (he was a life-long critic of the PRI party), his essays have a knack for lucidly addressing Mexican culture that is almost unrivalled. Among stand out works include his narrative take on the 1985 earthquake, Historias para temblar: 19 de septiembre de 1985, and Días de guarda.

Carlos Monsiváis | © WikiCommons / His personal library | © ProtoplasmaKid/WikiCommons

Elena Poniatowska

So, Elena Poniatowska may not technically be from Mexico City by birth, but her mark on the literary tapestry of the Mexican capital has been so great that she simply cannot be ignored. A popular journalist and author, she is still active in writing circles to this day and some of her most enduring texts include the tragic Nadie. Nada. Las voces del temblor, written about the 1985 earthquake, and La noche en Tlatelolco which details the student massacre of 1968.

Elena Poniatowska | © Pedrobautista/WikiCommons / © Ediciones Era

Guillermo Fadanelli

Perhaps most known for his impressive novel Hotel DF, Guillermo Fadanelli is a fantastic example of a Mexico City native who almost consistently uses the city as a backdrop for his works. Littered with antiheroes and sharp turns of phrase that very much capture the nature of the capital and its people, the often ironic and pessimistic novels of Fadanelli are must-reads for anyone interested in a different approach to and perspective on the city.

Guillermo Fadanelli | © Rizo Terminal/WikiCommons / © Mondadori

Valeria Luiselli

One of the Mexican writing scene’s biggest names of the moment, Valeria Luiselli was a shoe in for inclusion on this list. While she has arguably gained most international recognition for her novel Faces in the Crowd, her first published text (a book of essays titled Sidewalks) is equally as good, provoking thought and reflection long after the first reading. Although she’s now based in the US, where she both studies and teaches, Luiselli is one of Mexico City’s brightest authorial stars.

© Sexto Piso / Valeria Luiselli | © Fourandsixty/WikiCommons

Guadalupe Nettel

The name might not sound immediately familiar, but Guadalupe Nettel is an extremely accomplished writer from Mexico City who has won multiple awards for her work, including the Anna Seghers Prize. Her texts – which span multiple genres and approaches, such as both short stories and novels – repeatedly engage with themes of mysticism, death and the habitation of foreign bodies. We especially recommend the excellent El cuerpo en que nací and Después del invierno.

Guadalupe Nettel | © Vogler/WikiCommons

Carmen Boullosa

Moving away from novels and short stories for a moment, we enter the wonderful world of Carmen Boullosa’s plays and poetry (although she does also write novels). Her eclectic, varied body of work is enormous and has been the recipient of much acclaim from both critics and the public. While it is difficult to pin down a common thread of interest in all her texts, it could be said that feminism and gender roles are her principal concerns, especially in a Latin American context. For plays, check out her Teatro herético trilogy.

Carmen Boullosa being checked at the border | © Crossroads Foundation Photos/Flickr

Jorge Volpi

A prolific writer hailing from the Mexican capital, Jorge Volpi is currently the director of the Cervantino Festival, a renowned literary event that takes place annually in Guanajuato, Mexico. Part of the so-called Generación del Crack, Volpi is perhaps best known internationally for his award winning En Busca de Klingon. What sets his work apart from many Latin American writers is that it doesn’t engage with the magical realism genre, instead focusing more on academic fields such as science.

Jorge Volpi | © Instituto Cervantes de Tokio/WikiCommons

Marta Lamas

Marta Lamas is not an author as such; rather, she’s a leading feminist and anthropologist and has a great level of renown in Mexico. Her writings predominantly focus on issues of women’s rights, particularly in the fields of prostitution and abortion, and are always exceptionally researched and informative, yet gripping at the same time. Currently one of Debate Feminista’s editors, Lamas is a former Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

© Océano / Feminism | © Denis Bocquet/Flickr

Octavio Paz

No guide to Mexico City literature would be complete without the obligatory mention of Octavio Paz. He ranks as perhaps Mexico’s best known poet (or at the very least, one of the best known) and his anthologies are classics in countries far beyond Mexico. However, he is still perhaps best remembered for his essay El laberinto de la soledad. Unlike the former entry, Paz won the Nobel Peace Prize when he was nominated and with good reason. One of his stand out works is the surrealist poem Piedra de sol.

© Penguin Books / Octavio Paz | © Jonn Leffmann/WikiCommons

Carmen Aristegui

Finally, we round off our guide to Mexico City writers with one of present day Mexican journalism’s most prominent and respected figures, Carmen Aristegui. Known for her in depth investigations of Mexican politicians, most famously the current government headed up by Enrique Peña Nieto, Aristegui was controversially fired from her own radio show in 2015 due to ‘internal conflicts’. Whatever the real reason was, she remains one of the country’s best journalists with a knack for uncovering huge stories in the world of Mexican politics.

Carmen Aristegui | © Eneas De Troya/WikiCommons