Interview / Literary Projects

In Conversation with Socorro Venegas, Writer and Co-Editor of UNAM’s ‘Vindictas’ Series

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Socorro Venegas is a Mexican writer and editor with over half a dozen short story collections and novels to her name, including La memoria donde ardía (Páginas de espuma, 2019), Vestido de novia (Tusquets, 2014), and La noche será negra y blanca (Ediciones Era/UNAM, 2009).

However, while known for her fiction, Venegas has most recently been one of the driving forces behind the Vindictas Series, thanks to her role as director of Libros UNAM. Established in 2019 in an attempt to rewrite the Mexican (and Latin American) literary canon and revindicate writers that were scrubbed from history, Vindictas has so far republished novels and memoir by key 20th century writers such as Tita Valencia, Luisa Josefina Hernández, and Yolanda Oreamuno, as well as a collection of short stories—Vindictas. Cuentistas latinoamericanas—by writers from across the region. Poetry shouldn’t be too far behind.

Here, we discuss the humble Facebook post origins of the Vindictas project, the relevance of these revindicated writings, and the debt she feels is owed to Central American writers.


Lauren Cocking: So, it’s the most basic question of all but how did the Vindictas series come about?

Socorro Venegas: Well, I read a kind of lament on Ave [Barrera’s] Facebook wall, where she talked about how difficult it had been to find Mexican writer Luisa Josefina Hernández’s novel [El lugar donde crece la hierba]. She said it was such a shame that when she found a copy, she had to go to [Mexico City neighbourhood] Santa Fe, which as you know is like going to another country. And then when she found the book, the ticket said that nobody had ever taken it out of the library. Reading that was like the lightbulb moment that led me the Vindictas project.

I started talking to Ave and the first thing I did was borrow the book from her. Then I asked her to write an introduction. [Eventually], I thought this could become a collection, so I stewed on that idea and then asked Ave to help me coordinate the project. The starting point was the publication of five 20th century novels by Latin American women.

[Since then, the project has started to include non-Mexican writers.] We’ve published the Costa Rican Yolanda Oreamuno and Tununa Mercado and Vlady Kociancich from Argentina. We’re going to launch new titles from other countries soon.

But what I’ve carried through from that initial book is [the idea of asking] a woman writer from the Generación de los 80s to read the book and write an introduction, in order to create an intergenerational bridge which establishes a conversation between contemporary writers and their literary foremothers. Several times, those same contemporary writers have pitched us novels because they thought it was important that that author continued to be read.

And it seems key to point out that one of the criteria for this collection is that we publish titles for their literary worth, not just because they were written by women.

LC: Have people been critical of that decision to focus on women, claiming the books aren’t that good?  

SV: Right at the start when the collection was just getting going. There was a director of an editorial that claimed—without having read the novels—that it was a project born from a need to cover a gender quota. But aside from that, honestly, no I haven’t heard criticism. There have been people asking us to incorporate authors from different generations, but the project is still so young; it’s early days.

Right now, we’re exploring the 20th century, opening editorial space for writers that aren’t going to pitch us their books, writers that have already passed away, authors whose families don’t see the value in their work and that have been forgotten.

So, it’s down to us—the editors and the writers—to give our time and our effort to revindicate those voices.

LC: The writers that are alive, what’s been their response to the republication of their work?

SV: Mimí Diaz Lozano, one of the authors included in the short story anthology, is a very, very old and very sick woman, but it made us so happy that she lived to see this recognition of her work. Mimi’s short story is so powerful; honestly, it’s one of the best texts in the book. For us as editors, being able to pay this small homage to the authors while they’re still alive is super special.

When we suggested the republication of Minotauromaquia, Tita Valencia—who’s also very elderly now, but still extremely lucid, clear-eyed and generous—was so grateful and that’s something that surprised me because I’m the grateful one!

The other day, someone said to me: “oh it’s so wonderful what you’ve done for these writers.” And I said to them: “no, what’s wonderful is what they’ve done for me.” Because they’re authors that have been in many ways exemplary; that fought hard in order to write in societies even more backwards than the ones in which we live today.

Imagine in the last century, you couldn’t write about abortion, divorce, the female body…they suffered from social censorship. And that’s what they fought back against.

LC: I know you included some memoir in the collection. Memoir is quite an overlooked genre in Mexico, in my opinion, and I wonder if that’s because it’s so associated with the feminine. What do you think?

SV: I totally agree. The great thing about immersing ourselves in the 20th century was finding works by authors that didn’t worry about genre. That’s notable, for sure. So, I came to read books like El diario del dolor by María Luisa Puga or the writing of María Luisa Elío, a Spanish writer exiled in Mexico who’s generally known as one of the people to whom Gabriel García Márquez dedicated One Hundred Years of Solitude. But she’s a writer who should be known for her work, not for that dedication. And memoir is alive in her work, from her familial experience of madness, exile, her painful childhood and the death of her father.

And in the case of María Luisa Puga, El diario del dolor is an incredible book in which she makes pain a character. She interacts with that character. What do you do with books like that? Do they have to be excluded from Vindictas?

Well, what I thought was that we needed to open up the collection, so those books could be a part of it. Diaries, memoir…we don’t neglect correspondence either; anything that allows us to enter the worlds of these creators in order to understand their time, words, literary approaches and, at the end of the day, get to know them. Because we simply don’t know them. We’re also going to have new series’, so there’s room for poets and essayists.

LC: How different would Mexico’s literary scene be if these women hadn’t been erased?
SV: Well, it wouldn’t just be [different in] Mexico. This happened all over the place. Look at just the short story writers, what happened to them, their experience—it’s unbelievable. Take the canonical anthologies of 20th century Latin American short stories and what you’ll witness are their absences. It seems like women weren’t interested in writing short stories, that they didn’t work with the form.

What Vindictas. Cuentistas latinoamericanas shows is that there were great short story writers and that, without realising it, many of us writers are their heiresses.

Above all, I feel like one of the things that’s been the most painful for me about working on this project has been to imagine what would have been of my life and my reading, if I’d had the chance to get to know these short story writers 20 years ago, when I was starting to write, when I was trying to find my own voice. How important it would have been to know about them, to know that there were all these possibilities!

I think an individual exercise that we all, as readers, must do is assume that if we don’t know about the women who were writing, working, thinking about and exploring diverse literary themes in the 20th century, we’re incomplete.

LC: What most took you by surprise when you read these stories and novels for Vindictas?

SV: I found texts that feel incredibly current, texts that don’t read like they were written in a different time. One of the most powerful short stories in Cuentistas latinoamericanas is by Marta Brunet, a Chilean writer that’s maybe one of the oldest in the collection. You read it and it moves you, it shifts you. And it doesn’t feel at all distant or removed. That’s the ability of great literature, the best literature—it moves you without making you think about the period in which it was written. Literature will move you when you find something authentic within in and that’s something that happened to me a lot with these stories.

The story by María Luisa de Luján Campos, the Argentine writer, is tremendous too. She deals with infancy and an unusual adolescence that really perturbed me. It’s a story that opens up like a Russian doll; one reality, another, another. And to find that, when we’ve only read men dealing with the fantastic, the strange, the immortal…it’s such a gem.

LC: You talked about finding writers from the Generación de los 80s for the introductions. Why did you want writers from that generation specifically?

SV: That was my decision and it [was partly because Ave is a part of that generation]. I wanted a contemporary cohort but we’re still getting to know writers from the 90s—I’m not against inviting them to write introductions for subsequent books—but I wanted to start with that generation which, to my mind, has been a generation that’s fought back against a lot of prejudice, has sought to revindicate feminist causes, has been fearless in a way.

In my generation [Venegas was born in 1972], we didn’t have clear attitudes or stances that allowed us to point out injustices, machismo, or the heteropatriarchy, so everything the women of the Generación de los 80s have done made me think that we needed to start with them, open a dialogue with them.

It’s also a generation I admire a lot and I have several friends that I’ve met because of their literary work, so there were personal motivations too.

LC: Do you think that pushing for women’s writing and work to be visible is the key to ensuring this erasure doesn’t keep happening?

SV: I think the key is maintaining open dialogues and fighting to keep hold of the spaces we’ve reclaimed. Vindictas is, by necessity, a collective project. To choose the short story writers, we spoke with different academic and researchers the length of the continent, the length of the Spanish-speaking world. [We’re doing this together] so that within a few years we don’t have to revindicate the women writers of the Generación de los 80s.

LC: Were there any writers that you’d have liked to include but didn’t have space for?

SV: If I’d been able to travel—which wasn’t possible because of the pandemic—I’d have liked to go to Central America, to root around and research more. Everything we’ve achieved has been thanks to the help of friends and collaborators in different countries, but Central America seems to me to be a region that deserves special attention. So, if I owe a debt, it’s there.

LC: Absolutely. To finish, what are you reading at the moment?

SV: I’m reading a few things simultaneously for work at the moment. I’m reading this novel published in 1953 called La hiedra by a writer called Emmy Ibáñez. It’s like the Vindictas of the 50s, a collection of women writers. Then I’m reading another novel by Concha Michel called Dios, nuestra señora, with an eye to the Vindictas series.

But personally, for my own writing, I’m reading the Diarios del agua by Roger Deakin. I’m working on a novel and Deakin’s writing is indispensable for what I’m trying to create. And that basically sums up my daily life—trying to find space for my two passions: writing and editing.

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

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