Didí Gutiérrez: ‘The elegant’: the revolt of the fat authors who had brand names

It was about ten women determined to change the course of culture in Mexico, in the middle of the convulsive decade of the eighties, when the cultural canon was marked and unmistakably macho. They just wanted to write, eat and look good. They decided to call themselves ‘Les elegantes’ because they all shared the taste for good dress and also good taste, which is why to belong to the privileged group they had to be obese women and, in addition, they were proud and satisfied with it. Didí Gutiérrez (Mexico City, 1983) brought them together in a storybook to finish what they couldn’t achieve, partly because of the earthquake that shook the country in 1985and because they had all been kept in the drawer of Gutiérrez’s bedside table, for more than a decade.

Wendy Tienda, Susana Miranda, Tania Hinojosa, Lola Herrera, Julia Méndez, Roberta Marentes, Fidelia Astorga, Aurora Montesinos, Ali Boites and Nora Centeno make up this particular group of exceptional women whose stories are revealed page by page in the book. Before each story, Gutiérrez gives a brief description of how he was able to find each author and slips in some details about their personalities: “The first time I saw her was in a shop of one of Mexico City’s residential neighborhoods. He summoned me there on the pretext of helping him choose his outfit for a funeral,” reads the first account by Panamanian-Mexican Wendy Tienda. “Julia’s case is strange, everyone knows her, but no one wants to talk about her, probably because of her links to organized crime,” she says before the eschatological account. Tough chicks wash their handsby Julia Méndez, who was a fan of Lucía Berlin and took advantage of the name to commit a crime.

All the stories take place in Las Bonitas, a sort of shared universe, a town of wild dogs from which only one of the compiled stories escapes, that of Montesinos (The days, a cafeteria), -and the only erotic one- which is described by Gutiérrez as “the rebel of the group”. In Las Bonitas, that kind of female, Mexican, octogenarian Macondo, the stories of these rising stars grow, extinguished by the tragedy and fate that almost any author or artist suffered during those years: anonymity and the editorial abandonment forced.

Gutiérrez summarized the origin of The elegant in three acts: the first, when ten years ago I was a cultural journalist and wanted to write fiction. The second, when he became entangled and fascinated by what he read by the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, dazzled, in turn, by another of the great universal Latin Americans: Jorge Luis Borges. “For him (Borges), the will to tell was everything. I wanted to tell the world. That everything had a form of history,” explains Gutiérrez. Then it all started.

Didí Gutiérrez, anthologist of 'Les elegantes', in a company in the center of Mexico City.
Didí Gutiérrez, anthologist of ‘Les elegantes’, in a company in the center of Mexico City.Jose Pablo Diaz

Hold on to fiction so you can face reality

In 1936, Jorge Luis Borges included in his book Brief history of eternity review of a book titled Al-Mu’tasim’s Approachoh Al-Motasim’s approach. In his text, says Gutiérrez enthusiastically, Borges described this work of an Indo-British author with so much care, detail and with a fine and wonderful narration that probably whoever read it was fascinated and eager to read it. get a copy. This is how it happened to one of the great friends of the Argentine writer, also author of great works: Adolfo Bioy Casares, who, amazed, ordered the book from the publisher, who turned out be a non-existent work. A ghost book invented by Borges.

Like Bioy Casares, many readers of The elegant they can search for the names of the writers anthologized by Gutiérrez, without much success. It happened to Juan Becerra, librarian and promoter of reading for more than two decades: “I was so addicted to reading stories that I consulted the Encyclopedia of Mexico and found nothing. I wondered why there was no data on them,” he says. On June 15, after finishing reading the book and reviewing it for different media, Becerra invited Gutiérrez to present it at the Polytechnic University of the Valley of Mexico. “It was a very important moment for me to be able to talk about The elegant before a university forum. In addition, the documentary rescue in fiction that Didí makes… and that feminine gaze that is rarely spoken about, for example, in relation to the earthquake of 1985: it has always been said that the only one who died there was Rockdrigo Gonzalezbut so are they.”

The 1985 earthquake and the pottery that fell on the women who wrote

In the prologue of The elegantone of the best written in recent years, according to Becerra, Gutiérrez explains that these women began a literary workshop with the Uruguayan poet who had just arrived in Mexico in 1983, Leonor Enciso, with the aim of “creating several hands a mythical world”. A year later, they published the Elegant manifestoe, whose first postulate refers to the desire to produce the first work produced as a team.

On September 19, 1985, the book project directed by Enciso was interrupted by the tragedy of the earthquake. The title would be the pretty ones, and would group together those stories they would have written during the time they met to write and eat. Enciso and Nora Centeno died at home the morning of that day. “The elegant” did not find themselves and the project was forgotten. This book is the reconstruction of what the earthquake buried. And an attempt to name the desires of artists who could not see the light.

Copy of the 'Elegant Manifesto'.
Copy of the ‘Elegant Manifesto’.Didi Gutierrez

Didí Gutiérrez wrote this story ten years ago, but it wasn’t until 2021 that publisher Paraíso Perdido published it. Consulted by EL PAÍS, the writer reported having designed each of the characters: the life, the worries, the families, the styles, the motivations and the passions of each of them, individually, and separately. “I don’t think all this work that I undertook over a decade ago I would do again. Without a doubt, I committed a lot of time and I think now I wouldn’t have that energy,” he says.

This bet was also on the editorial side. Sandra Liera, director of Lost Paradise, assures that the work still has a long way to go and is grateful that it continues to be received with great surprise and expectation. “In several presentations, Didí appeared as an anthologist and researcher and declines author credits, which seems to me, at first, risky as an editorial decision. But I think that is also part of the genius of this book. Didí moves away a little from the authorship of his own stories to advance the fiction a little further”, he assures.

Gutiérrez even reports that other aspects of the authors’ works have emerged that are beginning to emerge from the various fictions now being created by their readers.

In Roberta Marentes’ story, the sixth in the book, the protagonist’s friend, Gertrudis, who tells her story, gives a speech in which she notes the following: “When they read the text, they celebrated my ability to recreate the moments shared with Gertrude. They say that writers are liars, and, at the insistence of these gentlemen, I confess to them this evening that I thought it best to invent a little. I had no other choice.”

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