By Roberto Ontiveros
Celebrated author and benefactor of Latino/Latina writers, Sandra Cisneros plans to leave Texas. Cisneros, who lives in San Antonio, says she wants to spend more time pursuing her writing and will move next year—possibly to Spain or New Mexico.
“I have been taking care of San Antonio for years now and it is time to take care of myself,” said Cisneros, who founded the Macondo Foundation, which supports an annual literary festival and writers’ workshop, among other things.
The future of the festival and workshop are uncertain. Macondo inspired new writers, but Cisneros said it kept her from her writing. “People are always asking for me to give and give, which I have tried to do. But I can’t afford to do it anymore. The publishing industry is a wreck and the money has simply dwindled,” said Cisneros, 57. “I supported Macondo for years like a child, but my child is now 15 and she can start to support herself.”
The expectations often wore on her, she said last week, as she prepared for a trip to Mexico to make the Macondo Foundation an international organization. Macondo began primarily as a Latino workshop, but now attracts poets and writers from all backgrounds.
“Sandra has been very generous with her time and money, supporting artists and writers,” said Christine Granados of Centro Victoria, the Center of Mexican American Literature and Culture at the University of Houston-Victoria. Granados, author of Brides and Sinners in El Chuco, is a recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award, a grant that is named after Sandra Cisneros’ father.
Cisneros is easily the most recognizable Latina writer in America and an icon in Chicana literature. She has written, books of poetry, a short story collection, a children’s book and novels. Her novel The House on Mango Street, published in 1984, is required reading in middle schools, high schools and universities. In 1995, she received a MacArthur Fellowship, which came with an award of $250,000. For her 2002 novel Caramelo, Cisneros received an advance of almost $750,000 from Alfred A. Knopf, and then took 10 years to deliver the book.
In discussing her decision to leave Texas, Cisneros also said she was concerned about the future of Chicana literature. “I live in a community that does not know its own history,” she said. “Things are defiantly worse than when when I first got to San Antonio. The only dark-haired woman dark-haired girls look up to now is Kim Kardashian.”
Writers she has worked with said her voice and contributions in the city and state will be missed.
“Because of [The House on Mango Street], Sandra broke literary ground,” said Barbara Renaud Gonzalez, an early participant at Macondo and author of Golondrina, Why did you Leave Me? “I think Latinos all over the country applaud her for that. She’s given us all permission to reclaim our heritage, and that is a good thing.”
Diana López, author of Sophia’s Saints and The Confetti Girl, received an Alfredo Cisneros del Moran Award. “At the time, I was struggling. My first book had been published, but I couldn’t work out that second book,” she said. “So winning the award gave me a real jolt.”
It gave her permission to call herself a writer. Lopez said, “I used the money to buy a reading chair and to attend the National Latino Writers Conference in Albuquerque where I met my agent.”
Lopez, who teaches Cisneros’ writings in her freshman composition courses, particularly likes teaching “Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories,” which reminds her of Cisneros’ influence in the literary community.
“You can use archetypal or feminist criticism to take it apart, but my appreciation is much simpler. At the beginning, Cleofilas (the woman at the center of the story) is silent. At the end, she hollers,” said Lopez. “You can holler with joy; you can holler with sorrow. Thing is, you’re making noise. And if you want to connect this to Sandra, you can say that as a writer or a cultural icon, she makes noise. But she doesn’t do it alone. She gets everyone else to holler, too.”
Roberto Ontiveros is an artist, writer and contributing editor to Latino Magazine. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and the anthology Hecho en Tejas.