“Literature has not been an extra, it is my center”: José Javier Villarreal

The Tijuana native publishes “Poeta de provincia. Poetic Anthology (1981-2021)”, edited by Tilde Editores. “If I read a novel, I live with the characters, they are my reference, they are my experience, they are my emotions. It does not mean that nothing else that I read is what I suffer, I live; I also have a life that mixes ”, he expressed to ZETA


Between anecdotes and other memories, the poet José Javier Villarreal (Tijuana, 1959) recreated in an interview for ZETA the cities of Tecate and Tijuana in the 70s and 80s, which influenced his vocation as a writer.

Based in Monterrey, the city he went to in 1976 to later study Spanish Literature at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León (UANL) between 1978 and 1982, the Baja Californian poet occasionally returns to Tijuana, as in November 2022, when presented “Province Poet. Poetic Anthology (1981-2021)”, published that year by Tilde Editors, where he delivers a selection of poems contained in his first collections of poems, such as “Submerged Statue” (1981) and the emblematic “Mar del Norte” (Aguascalientes Fine Arts Poetry Award 1987; 1988); going through “Portuaria” (1997), “Bíblica” (1998), “La Santa” (2007) and “Campo Alaska” (2012), until reaching the most recent, including “A sign from heaven” (2017). , “A very blue sky with few clouds” (2019) and “Los secretos engarces” (2021).


José Javier Villarreal Álvarez Tostado was born on July 17, 1959 in Tijuana, Baja California. Son of José Javier Villarreal Villarreal and María Victoria Álvarez Tostado Quiroz; His maternal grandparents were José Manuel Álvarez Tostado and María Victoria Quiroz de Álvarez Tostado.

“Of the family, I was the first to be born here in Baja California. My maternal grandfather was from Guadalajara; my grandmother was from Sonora. My mother was born in Mexico City, but she completed one year at the ranch, in Tecate; and my father was from Higueras, Nuevo León, which is where the family library is, ”he told ZETA Jose Javier Villarreal.

“I did secondary school at the ‘Francisco I. Madero’ School in Tecate, it is very important because the director – his last name was Peñalosa – was the one who taught literature. He was a magnificent literature teacher and he had the idea of ​​making a circulating library where we would take a book that we had at home, and we would take a book that was not the one we had brought; then I took a book of chivalry and, finally, years later I was a teacher of medieval literature”.

In fact, he remembered the bookstore excelsior from Tecate, where he lived some of his first approaches to literature through comics, in the 70s:

“In Tecate there was a good bookstore, which was the bookstore Excelsior. For example, I used to buy Fantomas, comics. I have Julio Cortázar’s book ‘Fantomas contra los vampiros multinationals’ (Excelsior, 1975); I didn’t know about Cortázar, but I did know about Fantomas. I used to buy Fantomas, it arrived one day and it cost 30 pesos, it was very expensive! So, my grandfather tells me: ‘Look, we are going to set it aside and you are paying for it every week.’ ‘If they tell you that I fell’ (1973), by Juan Marsé, I bought it in Tecate ”, he evoked.


In the interview for this Weekly, José Javier Villarreal acknowledged the influence of his maternal grandfather, José Manuel Álvarez Tostado, who had a library:

“My grandfather had books at the ranch and later at the Tecate house, there were always books in the house. My mother was the carrier: from my grandparents’ house to my parents’ house she carried the books. For example, I remember reading ‘Pedro Páramo’ at a very young age, I didn’t understand anything, I didn’t know what it was about, but he did captivate me, I felt that. So, I was lucky that the books were there.”

What were those literature books of your grandfather?

“There was mostly a novel, but also poetry. He really liked, for example, Luis Spota, so I used to read Luis Spota; Jardiel Poncela, who was like second-rate Spanish literature, playful, so gallant, also read it. But, for example, there was Tolstoy, Tolstoy was very important to me; In other words, the Russians were very important, because I also made an association that was very personal to me with the Russians from Valle de Guadalupe that I could see as a child, those big Russians, and Russian literature. For me, Tecate, the Guadalupe Valley, Ensenada, and literature were like one thing. So, there was Tolstoy; Agustín Yáñez was there, he was very important to me too, I found out very soon. Amado Nervo and Rubén Darío, who was a tutelary figure. So, there was prose and verse.


Villarreal also revealed that at the age of 15 he went to Guadalajara to study high school, which he later finished in Monterrey:

“High school began in Guadalajara, continued in Tecate, continued in Tijuana and ended in Monterrey, it was a three-year high school with many accidents,” he acknowledged.

“I arrived in Monterrey in 1976, I wanted to study letters. / I began to travel to Baja California during the holidays / of Christmas, Easter and Summer; / Monterrey, the Sultana of the North, was imposing itself”is read by “A very blue sky with few clouds” (2019), included in the anthology “Province Poet”.

Before going to Monterrey in 1976, in high school in Tecate did you meet some writers or artists that you didn’t know were going to be at the time?

“I come from Baja California, I was very naive and very ignorant, thinking that I was the only writer, that there were no writers here, that it didn’t work. So, I leave thinking that I am the only writer and, when I returned from vacation, it is when I have contact with Pancho Morales, for example, which was very important, because Francisco, one day, we were at his house, in La Mesa, he it seems, and he tells me: ‘This is a book that you have to read’, I said: ‘Which one?’. He tells me: ‘José Carlos Becerra, take him to Tecate,’ so I left. I remember that I got to my parents’ house, in my bedroom, and I started to read it and I couldn’t put it down anymore; I mean, it had a tremendous impact, it was ‘Relation of the facts’ (Was, 1967) the book I read, which I returned to Francisco, but it was a shock. Then I met the people who made ‘The Last Flight’, Roberto Castillo, Edgardo Moctezuma, Robert L. Jones who was an American poet who said that he was translating Becerra; but it was already later when I met this. And I met Luis Cortés Bargalló in Mexico City, through Alberto Blanco”.

But you were younger than Francisco Morales, he from 1940 and you from 1959, there was practically a difference of 19 years. Do you remember what year that first meeting you had with Francisco Morales was?

“It would be 1977. Pancho was already the poet. He recommended that book by Becerra to me when he was in his library, in his house, and I was there meeting the poets ”.

At the end of the 70s, when you were already between the ages of 18 and 20, between 1977 and 1979, did you go to a workshop in Tijuana?

“I had a lot of contact with Professor Vizcaíno, in fact, he invited me, there was a workshop, Amerindia, I went to one or two sessions, but it was as a guest; I mean, it was like a curious object, that is, like Vizcaíno told them: ‘Look at this young man,’ but it was a very ephemeral contact. I don’t remember having given workshops, I remember that I was more like a spectator, but a connection was made with him, in fact, when ‘Mal del Norte’ (1988) comes out, he is very happy”.

Where was that meeting with Vizcaíno?

“It must have been in that workshop, Amerindia, but I don’t remember how I got there, I think I was in Otay, they already met at the University, but mine was on vacation. I came at Easter, at Christmas and in summer; I was already installed there (in Monterrey)”.



Reading “Province Poet” is also visiting Tecate, Tijuana, Baja California.

“I, in the Atenea bookstore on Calle Constitución, found Beckett’s poems published by Barral”, It is read by “A very blue sky with few clouds” (2019), a collection of poems contained in “Poeta de provincia”.

Tell us about this encounter with books in Athena Bookstore from Calle Constitución in downtown Tijuana… raised ZETA Jose Javier Villarreal.

“It was very good, it was next to the The Octopus Cakes. I asked my father for the car, I borrowed it two or three days in advance. The dynamic was that I came and went in the car, I remember that there was a circular parking lot in the Center, with several floors, I would park the car there, go downstairs, there was the The Day Bookstore (Sixth Street, between Revolución and Constitución), I would go and buy some books there; then I was walking along Avenida Constitución, there was the Athena, I finished buying my books and I was going to The Octopus Cakes, I bought my cake, then I was very happy with my books, I went to the car and went to Tecate again, those were my adventures”, narrated the author, while quoting the Irish poet Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). , which he read due to the Library athena:

“Finding that Barral edition of Beckett’s ‘Cascando’ opened up a world for me. Beckett was like a patron saint to me; I had my time beckettianaI read it and I still read it, but with Beckett came Joyce and all these poets and storytellers. But yes, Tijuana was my book reference”.

In what year did you discover these books in Athena Bookstore from Tijuana?

“I think that should have been before 80, it would be 79, 80.”


Going through “Poeta de provincia” is like wandering through Baja California, although not necessarily literally, but rather the literary scene, as Villarreal acknowledges in an interview for ZETA.

“During my student years (in Monterrey), I never stopped coming (to Tijuana), for me it was very important to come, it continues to be very important to come. Today I was thinking about that, when we were flying over Tijuana, that obviously my Baja California is an idealized Baja California, it is a literary Baja California; on vacation, where I arrive here, I go to Ensenada and do my Ensenada rituals, I have to go to Puerto Nuevo, Rosarito, to La Rumorosa; It is very important to go to Campo Alaska, to go to old in the United States, to San Diego, to the bay, to Valle de Guadalupe, but they are traversed trying to preserve, not to lose an imaginary. In other words, I don’t know to what extent what I see is real or has already been literalized”.

“Mar del Norte” is your collection of poems as more Tijuanense, more Baja Californian. How have Tecate, Tijuana and Baja California influenced all your work?

“’North Sea’ is a book of longing, of nostalgia, of realizing that you lost a world, but that the building of that world begins. In other words, it is a presence in Baja California that was transmitted, that was built. I think that with ‘Mar del Norte’ edification begins, but that throughout my books this scenario has risen, but you have to be careful: maybe someone who lives in Tecate, Tijuana or Mexicali suffers daily, says: ‘No, no, no, that’s not it’; well yes, he would be right, that is, that is not it, because it is a revisiting from a sentimentality”.


Before concluding the interview with this weekly newspaper, José Javier Villarreal is quoted a fragment of “Mar del Norte”, from 1988: “I remain seated to contemplate the night, / to wait for the ghosts that inhabit my life.; and one from “Campo Alaska” from 2012, where it reads: “I am the twin brother of the walking ghost.” to immediately ask:

Who speaks in the poetry of José Javier Villarreal? could you tell us about I lyrical?

“I think it is a character, that is, the poetic voice, I think it is a character in the poem, it is the tone, the perspective from which he is speaking, what is his imaginary, what reference is he giving, what is he talking about, and an oral force is being built; there is also an aphorism by Antonio Porchia: ‘Whoever does not fill his life with ghosts, he remains alone’”.

The poet concluded:

“For me literature has not been an extra, it is my center; that is, if I read a novel, I live with the characters, they are my reference, they are my experience, they are my emotions; It does not mean that nothing else that I read is what I suffer, I live, I also have a life that is mixed. So who is the poetic self? Strictly it’s not me, that is, it’s a voice that has been built in the poems”.

“Literature has not been an extra, it is my center”: José Javier Villarreal