Elena Poniatowska

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Written and spoken word (essay, novel, play, reportage, short story)
America, Central
Mexico City
created on:
May 27, 2003
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since January 2, 2011. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
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Elena Poniatowska
Photographer / copyright: Jerry Bauer


The Grande Dame of Mexican Literature

Elena Poniatowska, born in 1932 in Paris and raised in Mexico, has written novels, short stories, plays and topical essays. Her bold indictment of the Mexican government after its brutal massacre of students in October, 1968 brought her renown outside the borders of her adopted country.
Hélène Elizabeth Louise Amélie Paula Dolores Poniatowska was born in Paris on May 19, 1932. In 1942 she and her parents emigrated to Mexico. She studied in France, the USA and Mexico, and has worked as a journalist since 1954.

Her literary breakthrough came in 1969 with her novel “Hasta no verte Jesús mío”, based on the tapes of the author’s interview with the farm labourer Jesusa Palancares. The book is an account of Jesusa’s life, played out against the background of the Mexican Civil War in the first half of the 20th century.

Poniatowska’s next book, “La noche de Tlatelolco” (1971), is a reckoning with the massacre of students ordered by Mexican President Díaz Ordaz and his Minister of the Interior, later President Luis Echeverría, on October 2 1968 in Mexico City. The massacre, which claimed the lives of a whole generation of students, was a caesura in Mexican history. To this day the Mexican government still attempts in vain to play down the crime it committed, and unfortunately those responsible still have not been brought to justice.

Many books have been written since then examining the tragic events, but the significance of Elena Poniatowska’s book, one of her most famous, overshadows them all. In this work Elena Poniatowska proves herself a master in the treatment of diverse types of source material, such as the oral testimony of the survivors, official documents and a wide range of newspaper articles. This literary form is typical of Elena Poniatowska’s work, enabling her books to give voice to a broad spectrum of the Mexican population.

In 1978 she published a novella consisting of a series of short (fictitious) letters from Angelina Bellof to the painter Diego Rivera. The book, which carries on the tradition of the epistolary novel as exemplified by “Letters of a Portuguese Nun”, is a work that is extremely rich in moods and nuances; it dispenses with the virtuosity of the French Nouveau Roman and the Latin American Boom de la Nueva Novela, nonetheless opening up new narrative possibilities.

1992 saw the publication of Elena Poniatowska’s “Tinissima”, her most ambitious literary work to date. The novel is a complex, virtuoso treatment of the life of the Italian photographer Tina Modotti, who lived and worked in Mexico in the first half of the 20th century.

Elena Poniatowska has also written shorter essays examining the life and work of famous Mexican woman artists. In 2001 she was awarded the internationally-renowned Alfaguara Prize for her then latest novel, “La piel del cielo”.
Author: Alberto Perez-Amador Adam


Elena Poniatowska was born in Paris on May 19, 1932. Her father, Jean Evremont Poniatowsky Sperry, was heir to the Polish throne, while her mother, Dolores Amor, was a member of the old Mexican nobility, many of whom fled to Paris after the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. At the age of ten she returned to her mother’s homeland and learned Spanish from the servant-girls. This, her first contact with the underprivileged, changed her life. She studied in France, the USA and Mexico. As a young woman she turned down an offer of marriage from a French nobleman.

Since 1954 she has worked as a journalist, recording Mexico’s political and social changes in her essays and fictional works. Her commitment and her efforts to shed light on the murder of students in the great massacre of 1968 have won her great respect and admiration in Mexican society. She has lived in Mexico City for decades, where her essays and articles are published in all the major print media. Tribute has been paid to her work with numerous prizes and honorary titles from various universities. In 2001 she was awarded the international Alfaguara Prize.


Amanecer en el Zócalo. Los 50 días que confrontaron a México

Published Written,

El tren pasa primero

Published Written,
Alfaguara: Madrid

Obras reunidas

Published Written,
Fondo de Cultura Económica: México

The Skin of the Sky

Published Written,
Novel. Farrar Straus Giroux: New York

Ay vida, no me mereces!

Published Written,

Mexican Color

Published Written,
Essays. Stewart, Tabori & Chang: New York


Published Written,
Novel. Faber: London

Nothing, Nobody : The Voices of the Mexico City Earthquake

Published Written,
Essays. Temple University Press: Philadelphia

Until We Meet Again

Published Written,
Novel. Pantheon Books: not stated

Frida Kahlo

Published Written,
Memoiren. Chronicle Books: San Franciso

Nada, nadie

Published Written,

La Flor de Lis

Published Written,

Moletiques y pasiones

Published Written,

Métase mi prieta entre el durmiente y el silbatazo

Published Written,
Short stories.

El último guajalote

Published Written,

Fuerte es el silenzio

Published Written,

La casa en la tierra

Published Written,
Short stories.

Querido Diego, te abraza Quieta

Published Written,

Massacre in Mexico

Published Written,
Essays. Viking Press: New York

La noche de Tlatelolco

Published Written,

Hasta no verte Jesús mío

Published Written,

Todo empezó el domingo

Published Written,

Palabras cruzadas

Published Written,

Melés y Teléo

Published Written,

Lilis Kikus

Published Written,


1971 “Xavier Villaurrutia” prize for her book “La noche de Tlatelolco”; however, she turned down the prize in protest against the government.
1979 National Prize for Journalism.
2001 Premio Alfaguara de Novela.
Elena Poniatowska was also awarded the title of “Doctor Honoris Causa” by the University of Sinaloa, the University of Toluca, the University of Columbia (New York) and the University of Florida (Miami).


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.


The Mexico-festival in Berlin

(15 September 02 - 01 December 02)