Pergentino José was born in a Zapotec village in the Pacific highlands of the Mexican state of Oaxaca in 1981. He earned a B.A. in Education from the Escuela Normal Intercultural de Tlacochahuaya and a Master’s in Hispanic American Literature from the Universidad Austral de Chile UACH.
José writes in both Spanish and Loxicha, one of the varieties of Zapotec, which includes some fifty closely related indigenous languages and whose expansion through its use as a literary language is a passion of his. »What’s literarily interesting in my eyes,« says José, »is the departure from the everyday and the emphasis on the aesthetic. […] I’m interested in the Kafkaesque, those closed spaces where you search for your inner language.« In addition to Kafka, important influences on his writing include Argentine author Ernesto Sábato (1911-2011) and Japanese literature, not least Japanese poetic forms, as José has appeared mainly as a poet, sometimes in multilingual editions. José’s 2012 short prose volume »Hormigas rojas« (Eng. »Red Ants«), which became the first book by an author from the Sierra Zapoteca to be translated into English in 2020, has also attracted great attention. The volume brings together seventeen short stories set in the Zapotec way of life. In the texts, which are interwoven with myths and legends, history and the present, realism and magic go hand in hand. The red ants, which give the book its title, symbolize misfortune in the Zapotecs and are a constant theme throughout the texts. In distinctive, sometimes deeply chilling tones, José tells of how a population group is forced to adapt and leave its way of life behind. Catholic fanaticism, deforestation, the introduction of disease – the variety of threats presented in these stories is highly diverse. Yet they reflect the beauty and diversity of the culture of the »Cloud People«, the self-designation of the Zapotecs, whose cultural memory José seeks to preserve through his writing. »Americas Quarterly« discusses »Red Ants« by saying: »His dreamlike settings and open-ended writing leave ample room for interpretation. But it becomes clear his are traditions in need of protecting. […] In Red Ants he succeeds in taking readers to a different world, one that they did not expect but will be unlikely to forget«.
Pergentino José’s writing has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies and has won many awards. He has received a number of grants as well. José also translates into Loxicha-Zapotec and lives in Oaxaca, Mexico.