Beth Jörgensen, professor of Spanish-American literature at the University of Rochester, has won the 2011 book award in the humanities from the Mexico section of the Latin American Studies Association for her book Documents in Crisis: Nonfiction Literatures in Twentieth Century Mexico (SUNY Press).
According to a citation from the association's selection committee, the book redefines scholarly understanding of modern Mexican literature by focusing on "nonfiction writing as a fundamental part of the landscape that has long been too heavily focused on poetry and fiction." The award is presented annually to a narrative or work of art published or produced between May 1 and Dec. 31 of the previous year that reflects outstanding originality in its treatment of any aspect of Mexico.
In the book, Jörgensen examines Mexican narrative nonfiction, including autobiography, memoir, historical essay, testimonial literature, and chronicle. All were created in response to crises such as revolution, earthquakes, industrial disasters, and political and labor unrest.
Jörgensen says she became intrigued by the difference between fiction and nonfiction literature while studying the work of Elena Poniatowska, one of the most highly regarded contemporary Mexican writers. "Boundaries that once seemed clear cut were challenged by her writing in the 1980s and 90s when literary theory questioned the fictive nature of all language and all writing," says Jörgensen. When exploring this problem in the context of Spanish-American literature, Jörgensen found relatively little criticism that focused on what defines and distinguishes nonfiction writing. "That missing scholarship inspired me to look more carefully at Mexican nonfiction," she says.
Jörgensen teaches 20th-century Spanish-American literature and culture in the University of Rochester's Department of Modern Languages and Cultures. She is the author of The Writing of Elena Poniatowska (Texas, 1994), coeditor of The Contemporary Mexican Chronicle (SUNY, 2002), collaborator on a revised translation of Azuela's Los de abajo (Modern Library, 2002), and coeditor of the summer 2006 issue of Letras Femeninas. She is currently working on a project that takes a disability studies approach to the reading of Spanish-American literature.