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Duarte concludes lecture series on Juárez murders

October 23, 2008

One of Arizona’s most beloved and popular literary figures will speak during the Community Lecture Series at the Downtown Phoenix campus with a discourse on Mexico’s “Crime of the Century.”

Author Stella Pope Duarte will hold a reading, signing and dance presentation of her latest book, “If I Die in Juárez” at 5:30 p.m., Nov. 13 at El Portal Restaurant, 117 W. Grant St.

“The fall of 2008 marked the first semi-annual School of Letters and Sciences and University College Lecture Series held on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus. We were honored to have exceptional lectures by political scientist Karen Shafer and artist Sama Alshaibi, and look forward to the last one by acclaimed and highly inspirational author Stella Pope Duarte,” said Mirna Lattouf, a senior lecturer at ASU’s School of Letters and Sciences. “Her work on the women of Juárez brings attention to a very timely topic and an important one for all of our communities.” Lattouf added that the first-time community lecture series was hugely successful and will return to ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus in the spring of 2009.

The School of Letters and Sciences in University College is designed to respond to the needs of ASU students, downtown faculty members, the challenges of higher education and constituent communities.

Duarte, an educational consultant and human rights advocate, penned “If I Die in Juárez” (University of Arizona Press, $16.95) based on the brutal rapes and murders of approximately 400 women between the ages of 11 and 22 on the streets of Juárez, starting in 1993.

The 336-page novel traces the lives of three young women – Evita, a street child; Petra, a maquiladora worker; and Mayela, a Tarahumara Indian girl – who together uncover Juárez’s forbidden secret: the abduction, mutilation and murder of young women. Bound together by blood, honor, an ancient chant and a mysterious photo, the girls bring the murderous secrets of Juárez to life.

“I’ve always been attracted to helplessness and people who have no voice. These were crimes that I could not leave alone or remain silent and their plight has become mine as well,” Duarte said. “There is something in me that cries out against such cruel injustice, and seeks to honor those who have died, suffering unimaginable torment.”

Based on interviews with the relatives of murdered women, “If I Die Juárez” gives readers the experience of walking in the shoes of women who daily risk their lives by merely stepping outside. The agony of one of the darkest tales in human history brings to light a strange new hope, illusive yet constant, resisting lies, betrayal and the desert’s silent sentence of death.

Duarte said she visited actual sites in Juárez where women’s bodies have been uncovered, walked the streets of the red-light districts of the city, toured where the poor reside and met with activists and investigators for her research. She said speculation as to who is responsible for the murders, described as hate crimes, can be attributed to several groups, including: cartels/Mafioso groups; drug traffickers; opportunists; serial killers; gang members and jealous boyfriends/husbands. She said the murders have continued for years because police investigations have been poorly managed with no follow-up; families have been accused of negligence; victims have been denounced as prostitutes; torture has been used to obtain false confessions; and investigations have been closed without notice to families or further efforts to uncover the murders. The Reforma, Mexico’s leading newspaper, has called the Juárez murders the “crime of the century.”

The Phoenix-based author started her literary career in 1995 after she had a prophetic dream in which her deceased father related to her that her destiny was to become a writer. Her dream came true when “Fragile Night” (Bilingual Press) was published in 1997. Five years later, Harper Collins published “Let Their Spirits Dance.” Released in 2008, “If I Die in Juárez” is her latest literary endeavor. Duarte also teaches creative writing at South Mountain Community College and the Paradise Valley Community Center.

The lecture series and book signing is free and open to the public. However, seating is limited to the first 85 people.

For more information on Duarte, visit

School of Letters and Sciences Community Lecture Series featuring Stella Pope Duarte

Where: El Portal Restaurant, 117 W. Grant St., Phoenix

When: 5:30 p.m., Nov. 13

Admission: Free

Information: (602) 496-0638 or visit