It is with sadness that the Department of Spanish and Portuguese announces the loss of our colleague, Professor Gustavo Sainz, who died on June 26, 2015, two weeks shy of his 75th birthday. In addition to being Professor Emeritus of Latin American literature, Gustavo was a distinguished and prize-winning Mexican novelist and essayist whose work was translated into English, French, Italian, and several other languages.
Gustavo joined the department in 1992, after having held positions at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, the University of New Mexico, Middlebury College, Washington University in Saint Louis, and elsewhere. He taught a wide range of courses on Spanish American and Mexican literature, creative writing, and film, before he retired from the department in 2011.
Gustavo was born in Mexico City on July 13, 1940. He burst onto the literary scene 50 years ago with his first novel, Gazapo (1965). Along with José Agustín and Parménides García Saldaña, he was one of the leading figures of la Onda, a Mexican literary movement that coincided with the youth movements and student protests of the 1960s, and that was infused with the spirit (and irreverence) of contemporary countercultural movements. Over the years, Gustavo continued to experiment with language and narrative in his many other novels, which include: Obsesivos días circulares (1969); La princesa del Palacio de Hierro (1974), which received the prestigious Premio Xavier Villaurrutia; Compadre lobo (1978); Fantasmas aztecas (1982); A la salud de la serpiente (1991); La novela virtual (1998); A troche y moche (2002), which was awarded the Premio Nacional de Narrativa Colima in 2003; and El juego de las sensaciones elementales: Autobiografía a cuatro dedos (2006), which he co-authored with Eduardo Mejía. His work has inspired numerous books, articles, and dissertations, to say nothing of a broad fan base. In the 1960s, Gustavo participated in elite writing workshops such as the Centro Mexicano de Escritores and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He also received fellowships to support his writing from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Tinker Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others.
In addition to practicing his own craft, Gustavo was actively involved in opening literary doors and creating opportunities for other authors. He founded the collection SEP-Setentas and the weekly cultural periodical, La Semana de Bellas Artes; he was the Director of the Literature Department at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes; and he held various other editorial positions. He was also involved in a number of film and television projects, and regularly attended the Feria Internacional de Libros in Guadalajara, Mexico.
This writer fondly remembers inviting Gustavo to speak to my undergraduate students in my course on Mexican literature, where we regularly read Gazapo. Students related to his depictions of youth, its social pressures, questions of generational change, and the exploration of modernity, the modern city, and new technologies. Having a living writer talk to them was always a high point of the course. Students were very excited to hear Gustavo’s descriptions of the novel and its origins, and to ask him questions about the work and its significance.
Gustavo will be missed, but his work will continue to inspire readers for years to come.