The Ajijic Writers’ Group
By Alejandro Grattan-Dominguez
Ajijic is known for many things, not least of which is the literary ambience of our little village. For almost a hundred years, writers have gravitated to this corner of Mexico. In the 1920s, D.H. Lawrence wrote The Plumed Serpent while living at Lakeside. Later, another celebrated British author, W. Somerset Maugham, put the finishing touches on The Razor’s Edge while spending a summer in Ajijic. A few years afterward, Tennessee Williams stayed at the Old Posada, where he penned a short story which eventually became a full-length play. You might have heard of it. A Streetcar Named Desire.
Given this illustrious backdrop, little wonder that writers’ groups have always flourished here. The oldest and most established of the current crop is the Ajijic Writers’ Group. The group was formed almost 30 years ago, and this writer was one of its co-founders. The driving force, however, was a lady named Mary Jo (something-or-other). The first meeting was held at the Old Posada, and I thought—given that writers are usually non-conformist (if not downright unruly)—that the meeting had gone rather well.
Mary Jo apparently thought otherwise. She never came to another meeting. Some two years later, I ran into her and asked why. She replied by enquiring if I had ever seen the Frankenstein movies. When I nodded uncertainly, she said that when she realized what a collection of egotists and rowdies she had brought together, she felt like Doctor Frankenstein must have, wondering what kind of a monster have I created!
Well, maybe not all that much has changed, but in the many years since then, a sizable number of unique personalities and formidable talents have come through our doors. Among the most famous were Ray Rigby and Barbara Bickmore. Ray had won the British equivalent of an Academy Award for his script of The Hill, which starred a young fellow named Sean Connery — who, it is said, went on to bigger things. Ray also published many top-flight novels. Barbara wrote several novels, most of which were translated into a dozen languages.
The late Marilyn Davis, penned what became a classic, Mexican Voices, American Dream, a book published by Henry Holt which went through six printings. Another early member of our group — just recently having returned to Lakeside — is Ann Brandt, whose novel Crowfoot Ridge was published by Harper -Collins. Long-time member, Jim Tuck, has published several critically-acclaimed books, while Jim Penton has worked successfully in the same field of non-fiction.
In the tourist season, our meetings sometimes attract as many as 70 people, and most remark that the sessions are surprisingly civilized. Occasionally, however, someone complains about the harshness of a particular criticism. I usually counter by telling them about something which happened years ago. I was reading what became the opening chapter of my first published novel. When I finished, an old lady ambled up to ask if she could voice her opinion of the chapter. “Of course!” I said, apprehensively smiling. “Burn it,” she snarled. “Then dump the ashes in a garbage can!” Now that was the ultimate critique. Luckily, I recovered sufficiently to go on to publish not only that novel, but several others, as well.
Today, our group continues to flourish, with new members appearing with gratifying regularity. We have few rules, no dues or by-laws, and no recipients of “border promotions,” nor any alleged “serious” writers (who not-so-surprisingly have never published a book in all their lives). As for the qualifications to attend, I once told an elderly gentleman (dubious about being allowed admittance) that we were very stringent in that regard. Attendees must have a palpable pulse rate!
The group meets the first and third Fridays of each month at 10:00 at La Nueva Posada. The public is, as always, cordially invited, as are new members.