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Mexican and U.S. literary giants join in inaugurating new prize in memory of writer Aura Estrada

LatinaLista — There is no greater testament to a couple’s enduring love than when one honors the other in some public fashion and that’s what Francisco Goldman is doing for his late wife Aura Estrada.

Aura Estrada and her husband Francisco Goldman
Though none of us outside literary circles have even heard of Aura Estrada — a name that sounds more celestial than earthy — thanks to her husband, Aura’s name will not only be remembered and known by a wider audience but it will be associated with fine literature and making dreams come true.
Aura Estrada was a 30-year-old Mexican talent on her way to achieving her dreams of becoming a writer. While teaching classes and taking courses as part of her Ph.D. program in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Literature at Columbia University, Aura wanted to be more than an “academic writer.” She wanted to write fiction and so notwithstanding a demanding workload at Columbia, she enrolled in the Hunter College Master’s of Fine Arts program where she was a Hertog Fellow and served as a research assistant for Toni Morrison — and started writing fiction.
For this native of Mexico City to write in a language other than Spanish was no small feat and from how her husband describes her, Aura left a big impression on everyone. After her tragic death in July 2007, Aura’s husband knew he had to do something to keep her passion alive.
So, along with some notable names in the literary field, he has created the Aura Estrada Prize.

The Aura Estrada Prize will be awarded biannually to a female writer, 35 or under, living in Mexico or the United States, who writes creative prose (fiction or nonfiction) in Spanish.
The prize will include a stipend (how much depends on how much we are able to raise for the endowment, but we hope it will be approximately $15,000.) It also, so far, includes residencies at three writers‘ colonies, Ucross in Wyoming, Ledig House in New York, and Santa Maddalena in Tuscany, Italy. Residencies can last up to two months each.
Granta en Español will also publish an excerpt of the winner‘s writing.
The Aura Estrada Prize will be formally announced and opened to submissions at the Guadalajara Book Fair in November, 2008.That day the judges will be announced, as well as all pertinent details regarding the application process. The first Aura Estrada Prize will be awarded at the book fair one year later.

While the official application process won’t be announced until November, work is underway to start raising an endowment fund that will be applied towards the prize. On Sept. 18 in New York City, a benefit will be held.
It will be an evening with comida, drinks, some famous people in literary circles in attendance and a very interesting auction where among the items sold to the highest bidder are dinner dates with some famous writers, along with, autographed manuscripts by such writers as Paul Auster, Jorge Luis Borges, Joan Didion, Don DeLillo, Gabriel García Márquez and Seamus Heaney.

Aside from the New York Sept 18th benefit, Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt are coming to Oaxaca, Mexico to headline a benefit and reading for the prize on November 6th and 7th. This will inaugurate what will be an annual Aura Estrada Reading, by an American or English writer, at the Oaxaca Book Fair.
There are plans to nationally televise, on the equivalent of Mexico’s PBS, Paul and Siri’s reading and parts of the event. We are also hosting a benefit art auction at famed Mexico City jazz club El Zinco on November 25th (the U.S. Embassy is helping us bring down a first rate jazz performer) and the prize will be officially announced at a press conference, with the participation of Gabriel García Márquez, at the Guadalajara Book Fair on December 1st.

While prize organizers would love for everyone to come to New York or go to Mexico for these inaugural events, the commute may be out of the question for most. If that’s the case, distance doesn’t have to be a factor in not contributing to the Aura Estrada Prize. There’s a way to donate money online at their site as well.
The efforts by Aura’s husband may not be understood by all but thankfully Francisco Goldman is an accomplished writer in his own right and he provides a glimpse into why it’s all worth it.

About six years ago, in a bar in Brooklyn, I met a pretty Mexican girl, with shining black eyes, the sweetest smile and an adorable gap in her front teeth. She was standing at the bar with an acquaintance of mine, declaiming from memory a long poem by the 17th century English poet, George Herbert. (“I struck the board and cried, No more, I will abroad. What? Shall I ever sigh and pine? My lines and life are free….”) As if finding a young mexicana reciting George Herbert in a New York bar was not unusual enough, I was struck by her unique, yet oddly familiar, pronunciation: most of the women from Mexico City I know speak English with a soft, almost British-sounding lilt, but Aura’s voice was exuberant, robust, with a slight thrumming raspiness – the voice of a spirited and wise old Mexican woman, or even of your smartest, most irreverent old Jewish aunt. I even asked her, “How come you speak English like a New York Jew?” And she laughed and said it was because as a young girl, left home alone in the afternoons while her mother worked, she’d taught herself English by watching the Seinfeld show on television.

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