Seven questions with Julia Santibañez

‘Every book has its own tempo. I can’t say: “Today I will start a poetry book.” Instead, I write every day; I work on my poems.’

Julia is a Mexican editor, poet and cultural critic. She has won numerous awards, including the Premio Internacional de Poesía Mario Benedetti. Most recently, she published El lado B de la cultura. Codazos, descaro y adulterios en el México del siglo XX (Reservoir Books, 2021), where she explores the behind-the-scenes life of some Mexico’s most celebrated artists, including Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz and Pita Amor.

1. Do you remember the first poem or short story you wrote? Tell us about it and how it inspired you to keep on writing.

I don’t recall the exact words, but I know it was about a murder. I was about eight or nine years old and was reading a children’s edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. I guess I just felt the need to say something about those stories that haunted me. Then, I discovered a poetry book at home and started reading and memorising some of the verses. I called them ‘little songs’.

2. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I think publishing the first book means crossing a threshold. Before that, you can always say a poem you shared on a blog or on social media is ‘in process’.

When you have a book, you have to cope with the shame of verses that still needed work. Publishing my first book made me more aware of the responsibility of writing and, at the same time, having that book in my hands was so thrilling.

3. Tell us about your inspiration for the poem ‘Fábula (Fable)’.

I was reading Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry. At some point, the Consul says something about the scorpion being a ‘curious bird’. I read those lines out loud several times. The image was amazing. Then I sprang to a piece of paper and started to look for words to give new form to the eye-opening image I had just found.

4. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

It depends. Every book has its own tempo. I can’t say: ‘Today I will start a poetry book.’ Instead, I write every day; I work on my poems, and one day I’ll suddenly feel I might have a book if I put together some of those poems.

On the other hand, a chronicle book that deals with the cultural world in Mexico during the 20th century, like my El lado B de la cultura, demanded a lot of research, years of research.

5. What’s your favourite under-appreciated Latin American novel and why?

De Ausencia (From / By Absence), by Mexican author María Luisa La China Mendoza. It’s splendid and so unfairly unknown.

6. What are your favourite literary journals?

I am the editor of El Cultural, the cultural supplement of the Mexican newspaper La Razón, and almost every week I read the other two national supplements, Confabulario and Laberinto. Besides, I usually read the Argentinian Ñ Magazine.

7. What advice would you give emerging poets and essayists?

Three concrete things to do: READ as much as possible authors who move you, who you want to imitate. Without a true reading habit, you can’t aspire to write interesting things. Write every single day, regardless of the topic or the quality. Try spending time with friends who also love books and writing; share with them your favourite pages, show them what you write.

Click here to read more poetry by Julia.