Biography of Alma Guillermoprieto, Mexican journalist and writer, living in the United States.
Main merits of this great writer reporter
She has dedicated her life to making known the reality of Latin America, its conflicts and violent events.
She has also contributed to spreading the culture, religion and art of the continent.
In 2018 she was awarded the “Princess of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities”; according to the jury, “in recognition of her long professional career and her deep knowledge of the complex reality of Latin America, which she has transmitted with enormous courage also in the field of Anglo-Saxon communication“.
Alma Guillermoprieto is the third woman to win this award in its 38 editions, after it was obtained: the philosopher María Zambrano, in 1981; and photographer Annie Leibovitz, in 2013
Childhood and studies of Alma Guillermoprieto
Alma Guillermoprieto was born in Mexico on May 27, 1949.
She studied dance and became a member of the National Ballet of Mexico.
When she was a teenager, her mother took her to New York for better modern and classical dance lessons.
She took classes from the legendary teacher Martha Graham and the great dancer Merce Cunningham.
The two of them made her a professional dancer.
Alma realized that due to her physical characteristics, she would never achieve technical virtuosity.
Beginning of Alma Guillermoprieto as a journalist
The year 1970 was crucial for her. She accepted the idea she received from her teacher Cunningham, and left for Cuba, Havana.
For six months she lived through the revolutionary experience. She knew from within the revolution of Fidel Castro.
This sowed the seeds for her to become a journalist.
She observed the paradoxes of the process, homophobia and poverty.
The lack of mirrors in the rehearsal rooms was one of the consequences of general poverty.
In May 1970 she was hired as a teacher at the School of Modern Dance.
The National Schools of Art were created by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara himself.
However, she heard it said that Fidel Castro did not like revolutionaries who “waste their time dancing.”
Alma Guillermoprieto in the 1970s
Alma Guillermoprieto began her journalistic career in 1978, as a reporter for the British newspaper The Guardian.
She covered the information about the Nicaraguan insurrection against the Somoza dictatorship.
This work was done as a “freelance” and with just enough to survive.
Thanks to this, she was able to live closely what was happening, although without comforts and experiencing many needs.
This is how her life changed from a frustrated dancer to an elite journalist.
Alma Guillermoprieto was attached to her friend photographer Susan Meiselas, from the New York Times, who did have travel expenses to travel to combat zones.
This closeness to the facts, far from the comfort of the hotels where most of her colleagues reported by telephone, allowed her to write a version closer to the truth.
She learned that to be a good reporter, she had to get close to the protagonists and stay away from the press officers as much as possible.
Activities of Alma Guillermoprieto in the 1980s
At the end of 1981, the Washington Post asked her for a report on the El Mozote massacre, which occurred in El Salvador.
A battalion of the Armed Forces of El Salvador had carried out an operation against the insurgency on December 10, 11 and 12, 1981, in the villages of El Mozote, La Joya and Los Toriles.
Alma Guillermoprieto managed to get the insurgents to take her to the site of the massacre a month after the massacre occurred.
With great difficulties and with great personal risk, the rebels smuggled her into the middle of the jungle, so that she could see in person the results of the cruel massacre.
Alma, along with photographer Susan Meiselas, revealed to the world in a shocking report published by the Washington Post, the horrendous crime committed.
The attack had cost the lives of more than 800 men, women and children.
She wrote: “On the trails, which connected El Mozote to other small villages, the corpses lay under a scorching sun. There were bodies in the abandoned cornfields, in one-room houses, where a sewing machine was a sign of great wealth; there were bodies in the orange groves where the birds were still chirping ”.
After this shocking report, she was hired by the American weekly Newsweek, for most of the 1980s, as head of the office for South America.
Since 1989, she has regularly written articles on Latin America for the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books.
Alma Guillermoprieto’s works in the 1990s
In the 90s, Alma Guillermoprieto began to write extensive reports for the magazines “The New Yorker” and “The New York Review of Books“.
Alma Guillermoprieto was a direct witness and faithful transmitter of the history of Latin America during those sad years.
In the 1990s, she lived and published outstanding events from the Colombian civil war, the Shining Path, the aftermath of the dirty war in Argentina, and the tragic post-Sandinista Nicaragua.
They were articles written by a Latin American for an English-speaking audience.
They were not written by someone who is passing through, but the transcription of events experienced “on site” with the immediate protagonists.
In these years, she received three awards for her brilliant journalistic work:
- The Maria Moors Cabot Award, in 1990.
- Latin American Studies Association Media Award.
- The MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Award.
Publications of Alma Guillermoprieto
Alma Guillermoprieto was in Nicaragua when she decided to put words to the events and characters that had come her way during her years as a courageous reporter.
She is good at writing. Better still than dancing; possibly because in her texts she prints elegance, rhythm and grace. As if dancing. There are eight books that she has published in Spanish.
Samba (1990), is a chronicle of what he lived for a year in the Mangueira favela.
There she closely followed the months of intense preparation of the samba schools for three ecstatic days at the Rio Carnival in Brazil.
“At the foot of a volcano I write to you” (1995). She had published it in English, in 1994, under the title “The Heart That Bleeds: Latin America Now.“
These are Latin American chronicles, where she brings together 13 articles published in The New Yorker on the civil war in Colombia, post-Sandinista Nicaragua, the “dirty war” in Argentina and the Shining Path violence in Peru.
Alma Guillermoprieto as a journalist teacher
In April 1995, Gabriel García Márquez invited her to participate in the inaugural workshop of the “Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano” in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.
In addition to her experience in the most sought-after North American journalistic media, Alma Guillermoprieto already had valuable recognition for her work.
García Márquez wanted Alma to teach the techniques that had made her famous for more than twenty years as a chronicler of Latin America.
Since then, she has given seven workshops for young journalists across the continent.
At her side were other notable journalists and writers: Javier Darío Restrepo, Jon Lee Anderson, Horacio Verbitsky, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Miguel Angel Bastenier and Ryszard Kapuscinski.
Alma Guillermoprieto gave a “chronicle course” every January in Cartagena de Indias, in the heart of the walled city, headquarters of the Foundation.
She sent reporters to find stories, to listen to people, to soak up as much as possible with what they would later have to tell others, with emotion and truth.
As she herself recalls, she told them that: “To write about the war you have to go to the front; to write about cumbia you have to dance it; to write about the poor you have to share with them the poverty of your home, your table, your life “
Alma Guillermoprieto told in those workshops some essential tricks for the trade.
“You have to make an effort to write well, to tell the story well told, to seduce the reader to enter the article; but we must not privilege our poetry over the actual fact.
For that, the importance of the editor must be highlighted. He is the one who has the task of asking us: what is your source? How do you know? Who confirmed it for you? How long have you known that person? What reference do you have of her? How do you know? How honest is the person who told you? Now you go and get me two more people to confirm it …
A good editor can make all the difference between a good press release and a bad press release ”.
Latest publications of Alma Guillermoprieto
Alma Guillermoprieto had accumulated so many experiences in Latin American countries that she wanted to translate them into two more books.
- “The year we were not happy” (1998) Collection of articles on the Mexican crisis during the transition, between 1994 and 1997.
- “The wars in Colombia” (1999). It consists of three essays that he wrote when President Clinton asked the US Congress to support military aid to Colombia.
Alma’s experiences in the 2000s
Since the year 2000, Alma Guillermoprieto has devoted herself above all to transmitting her experience, through books, articles, conferences and workshops.
It has also been the time that society was recognizing her magnificent work as a reporter, journalist and writer.
Among the books published at this time, it is worth highlighting:
- “Looking for History: Dispatches from Latin America” (2001). Collection of articles.
- “Written history” (2001). It consists of a series of profiles on Commander Marcos, Evita Perón, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and Mario Vargas Llosa.
- “Havana in a mirror” (2005). First published in English, the previous year, under the title “Dancing with Cuba“. For the first time, Alma Guillermoprieto wrote about herself. She told about when she was a teacher at the School of Modern Dance in Cuba. Living on the island in the 1970s allowed her to learn about Fidel’s revolution from within. She wrote without illusions, away from the propaganda of the Cuban regime. She was also unaffected by the resentment of exiles in Miami.
- “The Pleasures and the days” (2015). Ediciones Almadia S.C./UNAM. Mexico.
Chronicler of the many tragedies in Latin America during the last 30 years, Alma Guillermoprieto decided to draw with a firm hand the difference between fiction published by interested media and the harsh reality.
This decision is responsible for the existence of shocking lines, such as this presentation by Ernesto Guevara included in this book:
“So many lives were lost: those of the supposed guerrillas who died of starvation in the north of Argentina; those of young people drowned in tubs of excrement in Brazil; those of the gutted martyrs in Guatemala; that of the Argentine sociology student whose mother received her severed hands in a jar. “
Distinctions received by Alma Guillermoprieto
The recognitions to this extraordinary woman have been numerous and it can be said that incessant.
- 2001, she was welcomed as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
- 2002, she was welcomed as a member of the executive council of the Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano.
- 2008, she was named visiting professor at the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago.
- In 2008, she received an Honorary Doctorate from Baruch University.
- 2008, she was awarded the Julio Cortázar Chair at the University of Guadalajara.
- 2009, Overseas Press Club Award.
- In 2017, she won the Ortega y Gasset Journalism Award in the Professional Career category.
- Finally, in October 2018, she was awarded the “Princess of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities”.
On this occasion, articles praising her were published in all Spanish-speaking countries.