José Emilio Pacheco

José Emilio Pacheco was born in Mexico City in 1939.  He began to write for magazines and newspapers while he was still at school and continued throughout university. His father, a lawyer and notary, advised his shy son to study Law so that he would one day be in a position to take over his legal practice, Registration No. 50, and would not have to live on the breadline as a writer.  However, Pacheco soon switched to Philology to avoid the disturbing prospect of getting on the wrong side of the social fence and becoming a legal dogsbody in the “fight against the poor”. When he was a 19-year-old student he commenced his untiring work as a critic, editor, columnist and publisher of Mexican cultural and literary journals, including ‘Estaciones’, ‘Diálogos’, ‘Plural’ and ‘Vuelta’, as well as cultural and literary supplements in the newspapers ‘Proceso’, ‘¡Siempre!’, ‘El Heraldo de México’ and ‘Excelsior’. He subsequently taught Literature and Poetry at various universities in Canada, Britain and the U.S.  Pacheco has now returned to Mexico City but teaches summer courses at the University of Maryland.

His biography is straightforward, but it plays a secondary role for the author and his readership, as “a mixture of chance and fate” (Roberto Juarroz) in the racing, raging march of time.  Pacheco’s linear curriculum vitae masks creative outbursts into the semi-restricted medium of poetry.  Intense reading intensifies intense living – or vice versa.  Pacheco reveals certain similarities with the Argentinian poet Roberto Juarroz (1925-1995), particularly in the precision of his poetic language and his poetological passion, his independence from any group or movement and his disdain for the literature industry.  Pacheco’s literary obsessions consistently branch off in four directions: poetry – essays – translation – prose.  The first genre is his mainstay.

The comments of the Mexican poet Efraín Huerta (1914-1982) on Pacheco’s first volume of poetry, ‘Los elementos de la noche’ (Engl: The Elements of the Night), published in Mexico in January 1963, are still valid today, ten poetry collections later: “José Emilio Pacheco’s poems demonstrate formal perfection and an inner, emotional involvement.  This poetry contains a yearning, an ardour, a search for colour and secrets, a quest for the right word, for the right tone.  (Who is capable of finding his true voice?)”

Pacheco has won the Malcom Lowry Essay Prize (1992), the Mexican Literature Prize (1993), the José Asunción Silva Latin American Poetry Prize (1994), the Premio Mazatlán (1999) and the Premio José Fuentes Mares (2000). Pacheco is one of the most significant contemporary Latin American poets.  His works are gradually gaining recognition and reknown elsewhere.

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