María de Jesús Chávez Vilorio (known in the literary world as MJ Chávez).

Daughter of the Heroic City, 28 years old, passionate about science fiction and fantasy, with tangled hair, intelligent eyes, and an affable appearance? This is the winner of the Portus Patris Literary Prize 2023. We are talking about María de Jesús Chávez Vilorio (known in the literary world as MJ Chávez), who won the competition with her book Seventy-four Days.

The jury, chaired by Dazra Novak (stage name of Mairely Ramón Delgado, who has served as director of the Centro de Formación Literaria Onelio Jorge Cardoso) and composed - in addition - of Yeilén Delgado and Abel Guelmes Roblejo, active contemporaries in the field of literature, unanimously awarded the prize to María de Jesús, for offering a compilation of stories that overflow with imagination and good plot management, as well as dealing with important current issues such as the complex influence of social networks and other internet practices. "This book will provide readers with an enjoyable read, but it will also make them think," said the opinion.

MJ Chávez studied journalism but works in marketing. In an interview with 26, she confesses that it is an honor to win a competition that is not about science fiction and fantasy, with a book of this kind. "This tells me that the narrative juries are taking the genre into account when awarding prizes," she sums up.

"The fantasy genre gives you wings," says the graduate of the "Onelio Center", who thinks the city of Las Tunas is a great place because there are so many people who like literature. No wonder, then, that surrounded by people with common interests, she barely had time to sleep during the Portus Patris, because she enjoyed herself so much during the event, enjoying the pleasures of peñas, get-togethers, and similar initiatives.

"Although realism is extraordinary, imagine also creating worlds..., that's what we do. That makes me very happy, creating worlds according to what I have in my head. The fantastic gives me freedom and allows me to be more imaginative. It doesn't mean that at some point I won't return to realism with the new tools I've acquired over time. But science fiction and fantasy is my life, something I've adored since I was a child," she continues.

María de Jesús Chávez Vilorio (known in the literary world as MJ Chávez)The habit of reading that surrounds her family helped her to grow up surrounded by books and to delve into their pages. Her father (Alfredo), in particular, inspired her to be creative, bringing her closer to topics that have been useful in her literary journey. Meanwhile, her mother (Yamila) is a historian and her knowledge of history has been very useful in generating ideas.

One day she said to herself "I want to write", and since then she hasn't stopped. A few months ago, she even won the science fiction and fantasy collateral prize in the Regino E. Boti Award, and she received a mention in the competition in general.

"Everything you write has to have the imprint of what only you can do, and here in Cuba, we have stories that can be turned into wheat to create fantastic literature. We are a mess, we are complicated. Even science fiction has some magic in it because our lives have some magic in them. Here - for example - it is difficult to meet someone who is atheist or skeptical. We're always open to being surprised, and that's something you can transfer to literature," explains the girl whose stage name seems to be in tune with the exciting world she defends.

Along these lines, she confesses to being madly in love with the work of British writer Neil Gaiman, although she also likes the creations of Philip Kindred. "I live in harmony with science fiction, because of the way it looks at the future, because its stories have a soul. It doesn't matter if your story is about the least humanoid life form possible, your story can and should have a soul."

"Literature has been a great constant in my life and is what saves me when things seem to go wrong. When the material world around me is dark, I go back to that world in my head, where I am the one in charge and I can transform it as I please. Also, the more books you read, the more the world inside your head expands and the more you can escape from the everyday things that don't make you happy or fulfilled," she says. One day she realized that she was really bad because she had no desire to read, she says, and from then on many things changed, including her relationship with literature. "I gave up realism and started to write what came out of my stomach, what my guts told me to write. And I don't think I've ever been so happy when I stopped worrying about what other people thought and even stopped taking part in competitions and having rushed publications."

"I am fascinated by trying to understand the human reaction to a world that is moving faster and faster. That's why, perhaps, when I talk about the future, I don't go too far away, I stay here, close to what I'm seeing and how I can evolve. That's also why I prefer to use my city as a stage. Santiago deserves to be sung about for its geography, culture, and history. It is a beautiful city."

"I also like to use Santa Cruz del Sur, Camaguey, a town with which I have a close relationship, where my father lives, as a stage. But in general, I like to touch on humanity, that feeling that we waste our time, or we are so focused on one area that we neglect others. Apart from using a little sense of humor, although my stories are not humorous," she says.

Affiliated to the Asociación Hermanos Saíz (AHS in Spanish), she belongs to the national workshop Espacio Abierto, based in Havana, and is one of the coordinators of the Quinta Dimensión project in Santiago de Cuba, both of which are dedicated to promoting science fiction and fantasy. Despite her youth, she has won several awards, including the Caballo de Coral scholarship, the Oscar Hurtado Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy 2021, and a mention in the latter, but in 2022.

Her works are published in several anthologies and, in addition to Setenta y cuatro días, which will be published by Sanlope Publishing House as a reward for winning the Portus Patris Award 2023, he has another book in the process of publication.

Weaving stories about the internet, artificial intelligence, and curiously related universes is this young woman who, although she has not yet cultivated poetry, has a novel in the pipeline - a personal challenge.

She ends the dialogue with advice for those interested in literature: "Write from the gut, write what comes out of you, what you would like to read, and what most resembles how you see the world. Otherwise, don't do it, because it won't have a soul, and that's what's important, that it has a soul."