Mason’s 2022 Writer-in-Residence speaks about the wonders of language and poetry

Photo by Leeya Mehta/Cheuse Center
Photo by Leeya Mehta/Cheuse Center

Elena Medel published her first book of poetry at the age of 16. Now she’s the editorial director of La Bella Varsovia, a publishing house in Madrid that focuses on poetry as well as a successful poet and author. 

Medel was hosted by the Alan Cheuse International Writers Center from September 25 to October 15 as George Mason University’s 2022 International Writer-in-Residence. She attended four events during her time at Mason and got to interact with both students and faculty.  

“I was telling the students about my experience as a writer. It’s obviously not a universal experience, but maybe it could be useful or interesting to them,” said Medel. “I am a full-time worker, not a professional writer. I spoke about the problems I have when I want to write [but don’t have the time].”  

Medel’s favorite poet from whom she finds inspiration is Federico Garcia Lorca. Her favorite work of Lorca’s, a book of his poetry, is titled “Poet in New York.”   

“When I was a teenager, his poems were really important for me as a writer and also for me as a person,” said Medel. “I think I write poetry because of Lorca.”  

Medel spoke with Spanish language professor Rei Berroa and some of his students about her writing process and her debut novel, “The Wonders.”  

The novel is told through the perspectives of María and Alicia, two women generations apart who face many similar experiences in different ways with different attitudes.   

“When we read a novel with a male main character, we think that the book speaks about the great subjects of humanity. But in the same story told by female voices, it’s like it’s only for female readers; we have this prejudice,” said Medel. “I wanted to talk about universal things like money and social classes, but told by the voices of these women.”  

Medel and Berroa have worked together before when Berroa invited Medel to the Maratón de Poesía del Teatro de la Luna in 2017, a poetry marathon that he and his colleagues began in 1992 to bring together the Spanish poets of the Washington, D.C., area before expanding to include international poets as well. 

“We need poetry to survive,” said Berroa. “[I had my] class read ‘The Wonders’ as well as some of her poetry.” 

“This is the first time I’ve attended a symposium or book reading anywhere,” said Frankie Romero, a senior foreign languages major with a concentration in Spanish, and one of Berroa’s students. “I found it complemented the class. We got to see a real-world scenario of somebody involved in the writing process and how they go about creating the products they put out there, be it a book, a poem, a short story.” 

Students got the opportunity to ask Medel questions during their conversations. “I asked her if she ever suffers writer’s block, and I didn’t quite expect the answer given,” said Romero. “She said that she experiences writer's block every day.”  

Her process for overcoming writer’s block is writing about things she remembers, he said. “She would say ‘I remember... when I was a child or when it was raining’ and then all of a sudden, she starts writing naturally.” 

“I think poetry is in everything that I write because it’s in the language and the attitude of the writing,” said Medel. “When you write a poem you have to go to the essence of the poem, and I’m trying to do the same in fiction. I try to go to the heart of the story.” 

Medel’s residency was sponsored by the Cultural Office of the Embassy of Spain.