The Cheuse Center welcomes Spanish novelist Elena Medel

by Esther Goldberg

The Cheuse Center welcomes Spanish novelist Elena Medel

The Alan Cheuse International Writers Center is proud to host debut Spanish novelist and star poet Elena Medel for a three-week residency in partnership with the Cultural Office of the Embassy of Spain. Medel will be on George Mason University’s campus from September 25until October 15, spending her time writing and participating in classroom visits and public events. 

In her debut novel The Wonders, Medel illustrates the transformations in Spanish life, politics, and culture from the end of the Franco era to the 21st century through the lens of two women across generations, a story poignantly framed by the 2018 Women’s March. María and Alicia come from different eras, but find themselves in similar economic circumstances and societal constrictions. The two women find that despite living distinctly separate lives their narratives align in intimate parallels. They are united by their struggle against patriarchal limitations and their participation in the women’s strike. 

Medel, who Publishers Weekly named one of the "12 Essential Spanish-language Female Authors," was the first woman ever to win the prestigious Francisco Umbral Prize for The Wonders. Since its publication in 2020, it has become a literary sensation, translated into more than fifteen languages and longlisted for the Finestres Award. Medel is considered a prominent literary voice in Spain, described by The New York Times as a “prodigy of sorts,” for her prize-winning first collection of poetry, My First Bikini, published when she was only seventeen years old. Author Aaron Shulman says, "Her poetic sensibility is evident in rhythmic, incantatory prose ably translated by Lizzie Davis and Thomas Bunstead, yet she also looks at the world through a good novelist’s magnifying glass." He adds that The Wonders "is a vivid and painfully intimate account of two easily overlooked lives." 

The Cheuse Center is proud to host Elena Medel as our 2022 International Writer-in-Residence. She will be participating in a series of events in the fall of 2022, including: 

Leeya Mehta, interim director of the Cheuse Center, states that when the center was approached by Spain Arts and Culture to bring Elena Medel to the US, it was clear that Elena would contribute to many departments with her work, such as modern languages, creative writing, English literature, and the Women and Gender Studies program. Medel’s powerful narrative voice, which has been widely praised for its authenticity and eloquence, complements the Cheuse Center’s goals for its residencies: to partner the international writers’ experience with the global community of thinkers, artists and readers in America’s capital region.  

Rei Berroa, a poet and professor in the modern and classical languages department at Mason , encapsulates Elena Medel’s influence wonderfully: "Is Elena Medel a poet with the panoptic of narrative perception or a storyteller with a dynamically poetic expression? With her first book of poems published at seventeen, she established herself as one of the most respected poets of Spain. With The Wonders, she has carved a place of prominence in the Spanish contemporary narrative landscape."