Susan Page, a white-haired charismatic beauty in a red-hot embroidered blouse and skirt, lifted her arms to embrace us, nearly 1000 of us, in the only large hotel in San Miguel de Allende. A magnificent host, she was clearly having the time of her life and urged us to follow suit.
For the past nine years, Susan has invited great writers to come read from their books and share their process of writing -- novelists, poets, non-fiction writers, screenwriters and playwrights, literary journal editors as well as agents and social media wizards. Her keynote speakers and workshop leaders come for very modest fees, if paid at all; and it seems as though all of San Miguel's residents are there as volunteers. It is a love-in, centered around the magic of words.
Susan is a perfect example of discovering her own calling by connecting the dots: She is a minister of organizing the good and the creative. She longs for all writers to create and maintain a community to develop their craft. After moving to San Miguel, a jewel of an artist's colony high in the mountains, smack in the middle of Mexico, she has transformed it into a writer's haven. "I was born to organize!," she laughs, recalling her active life growing up in Columbus, Ohio, where her parents entertained foreigners in their home. At Oberlin College in the early '60s she joined the debate club, the marching band and became a campus minister. She moved to Berkeley and in the '70s wrote a series of evergreen self-help books and conducted workshops about finding and keeping intimate, spiritual love. She joined the National Speakers Association and found further joy in committee work. She organized programs to reach out to battered women and fight child abuse, and took in and educated three Huitchol Indian teenagers who still come back to visit.
An Activist with a capital A, she talks about the 120 non-profit organizations in San Miguel formed to alleviate misery -- trading the tar-paper shacks for $1,200 prefab houses and teaching local children to read, write, and even meet with authors who sign and give books to them. It's become a high quality community of residents who sustain each other and reach out at the same time, many who came for a vacation and stayed forever. This year, Condé Nast has named San Miguel the #1 top travel destination.
Entering as a visitor and never leaving was tempting, I must admit, but it didn't start that way. Upon arriving at the conference, I nearly skipped the opening gala and fled to my room for a movie and room service, overwhelmed by the number of strangers. I criss-crossed the lobby a few times before heeding my own long-offered advice to dive in and make connections for at least 20 minutes, and within just one, made an important alliance which spiraled into many more. I was taken with the great international variety of participants: a Vietnam vet now finding his voice after years of feeling invisible and coping with alcoholism; an MD ending her long career and exploring poetry; a TV script writer searching for new markets for her forthcoming book; social workers from Canada writing memoirs; new widows searching for fresh new lives.
We were inspired by stunning keynoters like Calvin Trillin, David Whyte, Ellen Bass, Benjamin Saenz, Laura Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate), Yann Martell (Life of Pi), and Kathi Diamant, of UCSD's Kafka Project, whose detective work has opened the files of a misunderstood Kafka and his last mistress, Dora Diamant, to whom she may or may not be related -- all examples of great talent and hard-earned success. Workshops about writing memoirs, short stories and novels filled the most organized program booklet I've ever seen -- an exaltation of options too hard to choose from, so I ordered audio recordings of the ones I couldn't attend, as did everyone else.
With this conference, Susan has given us a gift. By recognizing the need for creative outlets for writers like herself and using her skills as an activist and organizer, she is a living example to further pursue our own passions.
Make your luck happen!