Texas Southmost College hosted its 22nd annual Binational Literary Conference on Friday, February 16, 2024, at the SET-B Auditorium. 

This year’s conference, Letras en Estuario, brought together a wide range of poets and authors from Mexico and south Texas to share their written works, all of which share a creative core inspired by the cultural heritage of the border region as well as the poetic theme of limits and borders. 

The event featured keynote speaker Dr. Benjamin Valdivia, a Corresponding Member of the Mexican Academy of the Language and a Corresponding Member of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language. A recipient of international distinctions in Spain, Italy, France, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Panama, and the Czech Republic, Dr. Valdivia has received over twelve awards in essays, art criticism, playwriting, novels, musical composition, and poetry in Mexico, and his published work covers the genres of essay, novel, theater, short story, and poetry, including 60 individual books, 20 collective or collaborative books, and many more. 

Among the other presenters were independent authors and visiting university professors, but some of TSC’s faculty members, such as Dr. Diana Cortez-Castro, also had the opportunity to present their works. 

Dr. Cortez-Castro, an instructor in Teacher Education, was the very first presenter for the event, sharing a prosaic work entitled Jugando con ideas, preguntas y respuestas sobre la edad y sabiduria.  

“This piece is a critical narrative that aims to invite readers to ponder and reflect on different existential questions related to age and wisdom,” said Dr. Cortez Castro, adding that a core component of her creative works stems from her vivencias, or life experiences, as a Latina woman, teacher, author, and scholar. “My aim is to always play with diverse ideas, teach, and learn through the process of each scholarly endeavor.” 

The conference has successfully run for over two decades, and a large part of its longevity can be attributed to the careful planning that goes into the event’s organization, a task that Juan Antonio Gonzalez has assisted with since the beginning. Currently a Spanish professor at TSC, Gonzalez has participated in countless creative circles whose members have often been called upon to participate in the conference over the years. 

“The most significant challenges have been to make and keep contact over the years with this circle of authors and friends who enjoy presenting their works in a variety of different venues,” said Gonzalez. “There are, of course, other challenges that come with the organization of this event, but the goodwill and hard work of the members and institutions participating always manage to overcome such eventualities.”  

Historically, a great deal of attention has been paid to facilitating a forum in which creatives can present their works, but there has always also been an emphasis on having the event celebrate literature in such a way that it pulls in attention from would-be spectators, especially students. 

Amanda Utzman, an English Instructor and Chair of TSC’s Language & Communication department, has assisted with the organization of the event for the past three years, and she understands the importance of bridging the gap between literary conferences and average students.  

“A Binational Literary Conference is, by nature, a very academic event, and conveying to students how excellent and rare an opportunity it is to get to meet so many published Spanish-language or bilingual authors in one place is difficult,” said Utzman. “We want students to become more aware of the presence of literature in the Valley, the accessibility of writing as a career option, and the wealth of creative talent in our local areas, both in the Valley and across the border.”