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Professor Profiles: Alma Guillermoprieto

 	Latin American journalist Alma Guillermoprieto will visit NMSU March 17, 2011 as part of the University Speaker Series. (submitted photo) FEB11
Latin American journalist Alma Guillermoprieto will visit NMSU March 17, 2011 as part of the University Speaker Series. (submitted photo) FEB11

 

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Seven weeks ago, 43 college students disappeared in the Guerrero state of Mexico where they planned to protest discriminatory government hiring policies. Local gang members confessed to killing the students and burning their bodies after receiving the abducted teachers-in-training from the local police force. Although the exact details of the events remain unclear, the town mayor apparently ordered the municipal police to deal with the students, who were blocking tollbooths as part of their protest. The police captured them and handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos cartel.

This story is professional journalist and visiting professor Alma Guillermoprieto’s most recent topic and reflects the type of events that she has covered for over forty years in publications as notable as the Washington Postand The New Yorker.

Guillermoprieto recalled her official entrance into the field of journalism through her unexpected coverage of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua.

“There was a big news event that also got many people in Latin America very excited and that was the Sanidnista Revolution, so I wanted to go see that,” Guillermoprieto explained. “Luckily, there weren’t many reporters around, so I volunteered. I had never reported before. The day after I arrived, I was writing for The Guardian, and I never looked back.”

In 1990, Guillermoprieto transitioned from more traditional new reporting to long-form accounts with the publication of her first book “Samba” — a narrative focused on her time training with a samba school in Rio de Janeiro. She found inspiration to write the book from a personal connection with the subject matter, as Guillermoprieto had danced professionally from 1962-73 while living in New York City. She recalled the sanguine spirit of the Brazilian samba dancers despite their poverty. Through the experience,Guillermoprieto discoveredthe importance of making time for celebration in life.

In April 1995, Guillermoprieto received a MacArthur Fellowship, colloquially known as a “Genius Grant,” for her daring investigative reporting in Latin America, an award which she described as life-changing. The fellowship provided her an opportunity to exchange ideas and approaches to individual “creative quests” with other fellows.The grant also provided her five years of health insurance as well as the resources to buy an apartment, something she could not afford on a journalist's salary prior to receiving the award.

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The journalist-turned-author began teaching at the invitation of renowned Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Guillermoprieto found teaching a rewarding opportunity to pass on the knowledge she has gained in the field to future journalists. Recently, Guillermoprieto has taught JRN 440: Literature of Fact-Writing about the World at the University and currently teaches LAS 402: Politics and Drama in Latin America.

As a teacher, she said she feels rejuvenated by the excitement that students exhibit for learning and seeks to help students solidify their own ideas, incorporate their ideals into their writing and think critically about the world. The goals she sets for her students reflect those she sets for herself, which have evolved through her decades of experience in the field.

Currently, Professor Guillermoprieto has undertaken the process of creating a concentration in science journalism at a university in Bogota — a field which is virtually nonexistent in Latin America, according to her. However, she explained she believes that science and technology prompt many of the major changes in the contemporary world and have disproportionately affected Latin Americans over the last century. As an example, she noted that everyone recognizes the name of notorious drug trafficker Pablo Escobar, but nearly no one can identify Gregory Goodwin Pincus, the co-inventor of the birth control pill who performed much of the testing under dubious ethical constraints in Puerto Rico. Guillermoprieto hopes to create more exposure to these kinds of issues through science journalism.

“I used to be like any young person: both very idealistic and very tempted by radical approaches,” Guillermoprieto said. “Since I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that people really don’t want revolution, they want to live in peace and hope their children live a better life than they do. I think that the experience of four years of covering war in Central America gave me that.”

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