Last summer, on July 25th, Aura Estrada, my wife, died in Mexico after an accident in the waves at a Pacific beach. She had just turned 30.
Four years earlier Aura had arrived in New York from Mexico City on a Fulbright to study a Ph.D. in Spanish literature at Columbia University. However, her dream was to be a fiction writer.
In 2006, while fulfilling her Ph.D. responsibilities at Columbia, she enrolled in the MFA program in creative writing at Hunter College, studying with Peter Carey and Colum McCann. As the recipient of a Hertog Fellowship, she was also Toni Morrison’s research assistant. Aura had been publishing fiction and non-fiction in prestigious Mexican magazines, literary anthologies and websites. She began publishing essays in English too, in Bookforum and, just weeks before she died, in the Boston Review.
The morning of her accident, Aura had been writing in the beach house we’d rented. As we walked to the beach that afternoon, she spoke happily about progress on a new story. I’d recognized long before, as had others, that she had a unique talent. Unsurprisingly—this seems often to be the case with young female writers—she was the last to believe it. It was so exciting to see Aura finally beginning to have confidence in herself as a writer. She was truly on the verge.
Aura was raised by her mother in Mexico City, an administrator and instructor at the public university (UNAM) who sometimes worked three jobs in order to provide Aura with the sorts of educational opportunities usually available, in Mexico, only to the children of families much better off. Aura never wasted any of those opportunities. It is devastating to contemplate what might have been—she will never be able to develop her gift any further. Yet, if in her name, other young aspiring women writers can receive some crucial support in their efforts to realize their talents, Aura’s hard work and her devotion to being a writer will live on.
That is why we—Aura’s friends and admirers—have decided to found the Aura Estrada Prize, to be awarded every two years to an aspiring female writer, 35 or younger, who writes in Spanish and lives in either Mexico or the United States. This unique prize will include a grant of money, residencies in writers‘ colonies—so far the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, the Ledig House in upstate New York, and Santa Maddalena in Tuscany have offered places to the winner—and possible opportunities to publish in Granta en español and other publications. The Guadalajara Book Fair, the world’s most important Spanish-language book fair, has offered us a high-profile venue to announce the prize, and in 2009, award the first winner. We have been very fortunate to receive tax-exempt status in both Mexico and the U.S. thanks to the Fundación Eje 7 and the Mexican Cultural Institute in NY. Our goal is to raise $200,000 to create an endowment, which the Foundation will administrate.
Everyone who knew Aura believed she would be one of the leading voices of her generation. With your help we can launch the careers of talented young women who as female writers in the male-dominated literary scene of Latin America might otherwise not have the opportunity to prosper as writers. No other prize like this, for a young Spanish-language woman writer, exists anywhere.
More can be seen online at www.hunter.cuny.edu/creativewriting/memoriam/. Please consider making a donation.