Elena Garro: the controversial writer from Puebla

Her relationship with people from the PRI and her participation in the student movement of 1968 led her to be called "the cursed writer".

Many know her for having been the wife of Mexican poet Octavio Paz, but Elena Garro, a Puebla native writer, was much more than that. Controversy put a stamp on her life.

Elena Garro
Photo: Wikipedia

Born in the city of Puebla, on December 11, 1916, Elena Delfina Garro Navarro was a writer of novels, short stories, theater, poetry, and journalist.

She married Octavio Paz on May 24, 1937, with whom she had a daughter: Helena Paz Garro, and they divorced in 1959.

Elena died on August 23, 1998, at the age of 81, in the city of Cuernavaca due to a cardiorespiratory arrest, derived from lung cancer;

Representative movements

Although Elena Garro rejected it, historians place her as the precursor of magical realism, even before the writer Gabriel García Márquez with the book One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Magical realism is a Latin American literary movement, characterized by the inclusion of fantastic elements during the narrative or showing the unreal as everyday life.

The book Los recuerdos del porvenir (1963) by Garro Navarro is considered a masterpiece of this movement; however, Elena considered magical realism as a mercantilist label.

"It was the essence of the indigenous cosmovision, so it was nothing new under the sun," says Patricia Rosas Lopátegui, author of the only biography of Elena Garro, in an interview with El Mundo.

Other outstanding authors in magical realism - besides García Márquez - are Juan Rulfo, Jorge Luis Borges and Laura Esquivel, among others.

Theater of the absurd and feminism

Elena Garro was also a figure of Mexican playwriting and stood out in the theater of the absurd movement, which is characterized by strong existentialist traits and questioning society and human beings.

Elena Garro
Photo: Karen Mojica

Her most outstanding plays were Felipe Ángeles (1967), Un hogar sólido (1958), which won the Xavier Villarrutia Award; La señora en su balcón (1957).

In some of the aforementioned works, Garro touched on certain feminist themes, as in the book Andamos huyendo Lola (1980), where she sought to touch on aspects that were not talked about at that time of -even more- machism and oppression.

'The Cursed Writer'

In the mid-1960s, he had a political rapprochement with the PRI and its reformist, Carlos Madrazo, to whom she publicly supported at all times.

In 1963, the media reported that in the report of the assassination of President John. F. Kennedy's assassination report mentions an alleged meeting between Lee Harvey Oswald -the alleged assassin- and Elena Garro before the president's death, which led the CIA to follow her closely.

All of the above led her to be suspected of being a spy and informant, which, in reality, was never proven.

On the other hand, during the student movements of 1968, Garro had a very controversial performance, which was decisive in her personal life, as it led her to exile and she stopped writing.

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Elena Garro attended meetings of the Assembly of Intellectuals, Artists and Writers in support of the Student Movement because of her "quality as a writer", however, Garro always declared that she did not sympathize with the movement, according to Rosas Lopetágui.

On October 5, 1968, after the student massacre, Sócrates Amado Campus Lemus, then one of the leaders of the movement, assured that Elena had told them that the cause needed a "leader of redundancy and national prestige" like Carlos Madrazo.

Elena Garro
Photograph by Ricardo Salazar on the back cover of the book "Estamos Huyendo Lola".
Photo: Karen Mojica

Some time later, Garro Navarro called a press conference in which there was no paper involved and proclaimed herself against the intellectuals of that movement. The newspapers assured that he denounced hundreds of people, among them: Luis Villoro, José Luis Castañeda, Carlos Monsiváis, José Luis Cuevas, Rosario Castellanos, among others.

This is why the writer from Puebla was called "The cursed writer" due to her proximity to PRI personalities, the Tlatelolco 68 case and the alleged meeting with Lee Harvey.

After the October 2nd massacre, Elena Garro and Helena Paz began to receive threats, the Mexican government and the press blamed her for what happened, which forced them to go into self-exile in Europe until 1993.

Personal life

Daughter of a Spanish father, José Antonio Garro Melendreras, and a Mexican mother, Esperanza Navarro; born in Puebla, she was raised in Iguala, Guerrero during the Cristero War, and spent her adolescence and part of her youth in Mexico City.

She studied Spanish Literature at the UNAM, but was unable to finish it because she married Octavio Paz in 1937, after two years of dating. She was a lover of dance, choreography and theater, which is why she collaborated in the University Theater.

Elena Garro
Photo: Karen Mojica

After their marriage, Garro and Paz traveled to Valencia (in the middle of the Spanish Civil War) when they attended the Second International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture. There, they met revolutionary artists such as José Mancisidor, Juan de la Cabada, María Luisa Vera, among others.

Years later, the result of that trip was the book Memorias de España 1937, where he recounts his experience with the different personalities of the intellectuals who also attended. "I was going to a Congress of anti-fascist intellectuals, although I was neither anti anything nor an intellectual," he wrote in his book published in 1992.

During his marriage, Octavio Paz had a relationship with the painter Bona Tibertelli de Pisis, while Elena Garro fell in love with the Argentine writer Adolfo Bioy Casares, whom she swears was the only person she fell in love with.

Elena Garro's hatred of Octavio Paz

The relationship between Elena Garro and Octavio Paz was really bad, in fact, Garro Navarro herself took a public stand against him.

In her biography written by Patricia Rosas Lopátegui, the author says that Elena tried to commit suicide in 1947 because of the bad relationship with her husband. However, it was until 1959 that they signed the divorce by notice of Paz, who requested an express divorce without Garro's consent.

"I believe that Elena Garro loved Octavio Paz, but soon felt the yoke of Paz's machismo and egomania. They were two opposing personalities and ideologies.
Paz always on the borders of power and glory, and Garro in defense of a critical literature without concessions and on behalf of the victims of the oligarchs. Paz in power; Garro against it", explained Rosas Lopátegui to El Mundo.

Since their heritage and until the day of their deaths, they never got along well, assured researcher Peter Earle.

Writer Carlos Landeros tells in his work Yo, Elena Garro that, she lived angry because she married Paz "with deceit" and that she always lived repressed, with submissions and frustrations.

"I married because (Paz) wanted to, but since then she never let me go back to college. I dedicated myself to being a journalist (since 1940) because he earned very little money then and because that did not overshadow anyone, but produced money. And I dedicated myself to keeping quiet because I had to keep quiet", Carlos Landeros tells in his work.

After the separation, Paz never stopped supporting her financially, however, for all the years of unhappiness, Elena created a grudge and it accumulated so much that she recognized it before her death:

"I live against him, I studied against him, I spoke against him, I had lovers against him, I wrote against him and defended Indians against him. I wrote about politics against him, in short, everything, everything, everything I am is against him (...) in life you only have one enemy and that is enough. And my enemy is Paz".

Awards for her works

Elena Garro won several awards for her works, which led her to be considered a representative of Mexican literature.

  • Xavier Virrarrutia for Los recuerdos del porvenir in 1963
  • Grijalbo for Testimonios sobre Mariana in 1981
  • Bellas Artes de Narrativa Colima para la Obra Publicada for Busca mi escuela y mi primer amor in 1996
  • Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz with Busca mi esquela in 1996.

Read it in Spanish here.