Interview / Literary Projects

In Conversation with Adriana Pacheco, Founder of Hablemos Escritoras

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Adriana Pacheco is a scholar, writer, and founder of Hablemos Escritoras who splits her time between Austin, Texas and Puebla, Mexico. (She’s got grandkids in both cities, after all.)

Hablemos Escritoras—which is now run alongside contributors from Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia and Puerto Rico—not only puts out two deeply researched Spanish-language podcasts per week, it also has an extensive encyclopedia of writers, critics, and translators, as well as a back catalogue of reviews, blog posts, and profiles of everything from bookstores to independent editorials. It’s what I aspire to create with Leyendo Latam, only in Spanish.

And talking to Adriana, who consistently reiterated that Hablemos Escritoras is very much a team effort and is arguably the most well-read person I’ve ever had the pleasure of bugging for book recommendations, is an exercise in simultaneous admiration and envy.

Here, we discuss her Terry Gross obsession, the incredible trajectory and impact of Hablemos Escritoras, her love of translators, and the philosophy that guides her quite frankly prodigious reading schedule.


Lauren Cocking: When and how did the Hablemos Escritoras project come about?

Adriana Pacheco: It all started in 2015. I was a professor at a private university in Puebla and we started a project about Mexican women writers. I’d already started to realise the huge gaps that existed [surrounding] women writers. I’d hear about them in Austin but I couldn’t find them in Mexico and I’d say to my Mexican colleagues: “hey, have you heard of such-and-such a writer from Sonora, Sinaloa, etc.?” And in the centre of the country, nobody had heard of them. That’s when I became curious.

Later on, I found a book by a writer called Mariana Herrera, a short story writer and now-playwright that really fascinated me. And nobody knew about her in Mexico. So I became obsessed with finding her—because she wasn’t on social media either—and she wrote under a pseudonym. I had to find the book’s illustrator, editorial, and editors, who didn’t remember anything about her. And when I found her, I went to meet her and it was such a lovely surprise. Plus, [inimitable translator of Latin American literature] Christina MacSweeney—I’m a big fan of translators—wrote an article in which she talked about this ‘feminine boom’.

That’s where the idea [for Hablemos Escritoras] began. First, we published a book called Romper con la palabra: Violencia de género en obras de escritoras mexicanas contemporáneas [Breaking the silence: Gender violence in the writing of contemporary Mexican women], where we put together the first list of women writers.

But I’m a huge fan of Terry Gross of Fresh Air on NPR, so I thought: “well, why don’t we make a podcast?” It was actually my husband’s idea, because I kept saying Terry Gross this, Terry Gross that, and he said: “you should start a podcast!” Just like that, as if it were no big deal, like whipping up noodle soup. But that’s how we became pioneers back in 2018 with the first Spanish-language podcast about women writers.

LC: I think the podcast is what most people think of when they hear the name Hablemos Escritoras, but there’s a whole website full of resources too, right?

AP: Yeah. I thought that the podcast needed something to support it. So, we created the encyclopedia [which lists hundreds of women writers] and the library [a collection of all the books reviewed on the platform so far, as well as recommendations]. And we started to invite people to join the team.

[Editor’s note: There are now close to a dozen people working on Hablemos Escritoras, including Fernando Macías, Andrea Macías, Wilfredo Burgos, Liliana Valenzuela, Alejandra Márquez, Fran Dennstedt, Verónica Ríos, and Giulianna Zambrano.]

LC: The website is incredible. Every time I look at it, I’m blown away by, frankly, how little I’ve read. What’s coming up for Hablemos Escritoras in the future?

AP: There’s the book that just came out [Rompiendo de otras maneras. Cineastas, periodistas, dramaturgas, y performers en el México contemporáneo] which has a list of more than 300 contemporary women writers, and we’ve just launched the new version of the podcast too.

We also invested a lot into rebranding everything, everything, everything, from the idea to the logo. We’ve started a blog because we just had so much more to say. We’re going to open a shop so we can sell Spanish-language books by Latin American, Spanish, and Caribbean editorials in the US. People would write to us saying that they’d heard about this writer and that writer, but where could they read them? Where could they buy the books? So, we thought, right, ebooks are boring but physical books?  They’re where the pleasure lies.

To think that we started with a wix site and now we have this huge project! We have more than 40,000 podcast downloads from over 50 countries. There are more than 1000 books listed in the library—and we’re starting to do more reviews—plus, more than 700 writers in the encyclopedia and 200 podcast episodes.

LC: It’s so impressive, I can’t say I’m not a little envious! You mentioned something interesting about translators though, that you’re a huge fan of them. Why did it seem so important to also interview translators on Hablemos Escritoras?

AP: I think there’s a really reductionist vision of literature, the writer, and the book publishing industry. I feel like we have a skewed, broken idea of what it is to read a book. The book makes its way to our hands and we know that the book has a writer, a title, an editorial house, and—with any luck—we realise that it was translated and maybe we try to find out who by. That’s one reason.

Another is that I feel like the practise of translation is a resignification of the text. I’ve heard writers confess that they’ve changed the original after reading the translation, [because] the translation was so good and was able to better communicate what they wanted to say. The art of translation is underrated in my opinion. Who knew that the Mexican writer Isabel Zapata was a translator? Or Tedi López Mills? Translators needed a space.

We also have lots of editors in our back catalogue, because they’re also overlooked. Nobody talks about what they do, what they risk. We’ve also started to bring onboard literary agents because no one talks about them either.

Related: In Conversation with Essayist, Poet and Translator Isabel Zapata

LC: That’s so interesting and you’re right, I hadn’t thought about what goes into the book from the more editorial or marketing side of things. What’s the response been like to the project?

AP: I get messages, emails, notes several times a week, or people will send me posts or an article where someone has mentioned the project. I get genuinely excited when people say things like “you changed my life because now all I want to do is commute so I can listen to the podcast!” I feel like we’ve had such a warm reception. We even have listeners in South Korea, can you believe it?

LC: And what’s the process of putting together the podcasts?

AP: We don’t do interviews, we do audio investigations. It takes us months to prepare the profile before speaking to a writer. We read basically everything they’ve written, we send a list of 15 to 25 questions over to them beforehand and then we create a dossier, we start to speak with their editorials, their translators, we start to review their books, we create their profile in the encyclopedia. There’s so much work behind it, so imagine having two podcasts a week!

LC: What spurred the decision to include women writers from wider Latin America and other Spanish-speaking regions, not just Mexico?

AP: Argentine writers started reaching out to colleagues of mine to ask why we only focused on Mexican women. So, we decided to open it up to writers from all over the world. And the wonderful thing about that is that…for example, we just featured our first Bolivian scholar and writer, Mónica Velásquez. And we have writers from El Salvador, Argentina, Chile, and the Caribbean coming up.

LC: Which countries are you still yet to feature?

AP: Loads, although we have Venezuela and Spain (which have been a joy to discover), Canada too. We have a writer writing in Spanish based in Norway. But we’re still missing plenty of smaller countries. The thing is, when you don’t know about something you can’t talk about it. So we have to educate ourselves first.

There are also writers publishing in the United States, where we’re seeing a the #NewLatinoBoom which is, moreover, highlighting a new generation of writers that are writing in Spanish to make a statement.

LC: Who are some of the writers working in the US right now?

AP: Great question. María Minguez is writing from California. Naida Saavedra and Raquel Abend van Dalen are based in Florida. Lina Meruane is amazing and she’s writing from New York, as is the Chilean Arelis Uribe. Norma Cantú and Liliana Valenzuela in Texas, and Rose Mary Salum in Houston, who’s marvellous.

LC: Is there a Latin American writer you really want to profile but haven’t been able to?

AP: Thinking specifically about Mexico, there are lots that I’d love to feature. Guadalupe Nettel, of course. Valeria Luiselli, even though she doesn’t live in Mexico. Fernanda Melchor, too. Paula Abramo has an amazing body of work too, within poetry and translation.

In the United States there are also lots of writers that I’d love to have on the podcast, like Sandra Cisneros who was at the cutting-edge of Mexican-American literature.

LC: I heard you mention during a talk that you think it’s important to read a writer’s entire body of work. Why do you find that so important?

AP: I think that when we approach a writer, the only thing we want to see—or the only thing we can see—sometimes, is one angle of their writing. Writers evolve over their writing life and take different roles and approaches over the years in which they’re writing. You can’t evaluate a writer based on just one work. It would be unfair, totally unfair.

Take Rosa Montero, for example, one of the most prolific contemporary writers. She has more than 20 novels and around 30 books total. To prepare for our conversation, I read 20 of her books and when I say I read them, I mean I read them. It’s the only way of finding out how each book dialogues with one another and how recurrent themes start to emerge. I’m a fervent defender of the need to read the entire body of work.

Then there are books that have to be read several times over, right? For example, Rosario Castellanos’ Rito de iniciación is a book that was very different when I read it as a child to when I read it in school to when I read it in university. And now I read it as an adult and a grandma. You have to reread.

LC: Just how fast do you read? How many books do you get through in an average week?

AP: I read all day. Once you’re over 55-years-old, your schedule changes. (Laughs.) I wake up really early, sometimes at 4am. So, I take advantage of those silent hours to read. Nobody interrupts you with anything. And I always take notes as I read because if you don’t, you don’t remember anything.

LC: Are there any Latin American women writers that deserve more attention in your opinion?

AP: It would be reductionist to give names, but I will tell you about my philosophy of what to read and how to read.

I always try to be reading books by well-known writers, ones that were foundational.

I read young, contemporary women, whether they’re well-known or brand new. Take Lilián López Camberos, who was published by Dharma Books, who I think is really good. Find out who they are and read them.

I read criticism and magazines. I try to be up-to-date with what’s been said, from brief snippets in magazines to book-length criticism.

Men. I’m always reading male writers because I feel like it’s important to maintain an equilibrium. That’s something I’m really careful about.

On the other hand, many wrongly think that women writers always write about the same thing and there are many men that say they don’t read women for that reason. So that’s what I most try to fight against. It’s not true! Women writers write about many topics and they’ve written about topics that nobody else has wanted to touch from distinct viewpoints. Writing from the 50s that features gender violence isn’t the same as writing on gender violence from a woman that’s marching in the streets and involved in activism right now.

Obviously, there are always voices that you love, like Margo Glantz. Sandra Lorenzano, for example, is a sharp and great critic. Rosa Beltrán has a distinct voice, with irony and sarcasm. I don’t want to just list names though because when you list, you reduce. I’m passionate about each and every one of them.

LC: What are you reading right now?

AP: I’m in a completely wonderful total immersion right now. I’m preparing for Lola Horner, Dainerys Machado, Lucia Treviño, Fernanda Trías, Mayra Santos Febre and Eva Castañeda. Also Claudina Domingo and Selva Almada. I just finished reading everything by Cecilia Magaña. You have no idea how many gorgeous books we get through the post! We have a four-month long waiting list [for the podcast]. A month ago I started rereading Fernanda Melchor. We’re also preparing for journalist Daniela Rea.

LC: Have you noticed any trends within Latin American literature at the moment?

AP: Brenda Navarro’s book, Casas vacías, started a conversation alongside Jazmina Barrera’s Linea nigra about maternity and Isabel Zapata with her workshops and translations. But if you go deeper, there’s Lina Meruane’s Contra los hijos and Daniela Alcívar Bellolio’s Siberia. Gabriela Wiener and Nueve lunas too, Mátate amor by Ariana Harwicz, and Samanta Schweblin is another reference point. María Fernanda Ampuero and Esther García, also are talking about this topic. They’re all writing about maternity.

Another theme that’s cropping up a lot is horror. Within that, there’s Mariana Enríquez, Ariana Harwicz, Mónica Ojeda, again who’s in dialogue with Jennifer Thorndike, Solange Rodríguez Pappe and Gabriela Ponce.

LC: It’s so impressive hearing you talk about all these writers. It really reminds me how much more there is to read from Latin America. For someone wanting to start reading women from the region, then, where would you tell them to start?

AP: If I were recommending what to read by Mexican writers, I’d tell them to buy three books. The work of an established writer, for example, Margo Glantz, Elena Poniatowska, Sara Sefchovich, Laura Esquivel, Tedi López Mills, or Carmen Boullosa. Then, read one novel by Cristina Rivera Garza, Guadalupe Nettel, Valeria Luiselli, or Socorro Venegas, Rosa Beltrán; in poetry Malva Flores or Maricela Guerrero. And finally, the work of a young writer, above all from an innovative editorials, like Paraíso Perdido, Dharma Books, Antílope, Sexto Piso, Candaya, or Páginas de espuma like Liliana Blum, Jazmina Barrera, Sara Uribe, Isabel Zapata, Itzel Guevara, Daniela Tarazona, or Minerva Reynosa.

That’s where I’d start, with three books, and those books will lead you to the next, always trying to maintain the balance between [established and up-and-coming writers]. Because if we don’t return to our literary and academic foremothers, we’re really missing out the fundaments, schools, influences that can help us to understand the conversation.

Another important thing is to keep our eyes open for those writing children’s books. There’s a lot of talent there. For example, Mónica Lavín, who also wrote one of the most interesting books about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, called Yo, la peor (Planeta, 2017), or Lola Horner and Beatriz Meyer, who are now more focused on children.  And we have also in theater like, Tristana Landeros and Mariana Hartasánchez. The universe of female writers is huge, we just need to keep reading and spread the word about their talent.

This interview was translated from the Spanish by me and has been edited for length and clarity.

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