Cisneros in 2009
December 20, 1954 |
Chicago, Illinois, US
|Occupation||Novelist, poet, short story writer|
|Notable works||The House on Mango Street, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories|
|Notable awards||American Book Award, McArthur Fellowship|
One of my favorite writers is Hans Christian Anderson. His stories speak to the times.
'Hispanic' is English for a person of Latino origin who wants to be accepted by the white status quo. 'Latino' is the word we have always used for ourselves.
I was a terrible student. Still, I managed to get into college, but my daydreaming threatened to sabotage me. I used behavior modification to break the cycle. I started by setting an arbitrary time limit on studying: for every 15 minutes of study, I'd allow myself an hour of daydreaming. I set the alarm.
Once people are not here physically, the spiritual remains. We still connect, we can communicate, we can give and receive love and forgiveness. There is love after someone dies.
I liked the books I read that said things like 'I shan't'. I would try to find a way to say in my life, to reply, 'I shan't do that, mother.' That was so far away from my barrio world.
I have to understand what my strengths and limitations are, and work from a true place. I try to do this as best I can while still protecting my writer self, which more than ever needs privacy.
I'm afraid I'm still trying to find that balance. Especially now that everyone wants a piece of me. I find that I have to become more and more reclusive, and pick and choose when I am public and when I am private.
Revenge only engenders violence, not clarity and true peace. I think liberation must come from within.
I've always read broadly: literary fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, chick lit, historical, dystopian, nonfiction, memoir. I've even read Westerns. I prefer female protagonists.
I wasn't aware that 'House on Mango Street' was so influenced by Spanish until after I finished.
In English, my name means hope. In Spanish, it means too many letters. It means sadness. It means waiting. It is like the number nine, a muddy color.
I think my family and closest friends are learning about my need to withdraw, and I am learning how to restore and store my energy to both serve the community to the best of my ability and to serve my writer's heart.
There are many Latino writers as talented as I am, but because we are published through small presses, our books don't count. We are still the illegal aliens of the literary world.
My father always defined my gender to my brothers. He'd say, 'This is your sister; you must take care of her.'
I think that Mexican-American kids live in a global world. It's not even bi-, it's multi-. You know, for those of us who grew up with different countries on our block, different nationalities, you know, we moved into multiple worlds.
I wanted to write something in a voice that was unique to who I was. And I wanted something that was accessible to the person who works at Dunkin Donuts or who drives a bus, someone who comes home with their feet hurting like my father, someone who's busy and has too many children, like my mother.
In the business world, I did fairly well, but wasn't happy. A bout of sciatica put me flat on my back. All I could do was read, listen to my mother's stories about the Sandovals, and daydream: a return to self. My writing career had begun.
I was raised in Chicago, so always used Latina. It's what my Father and brothers called ourselves, when we meant the entire Spanish-speaking community of Chicago.
In my youth, daydreaming nurtured me, provided a safe haven. I'd sleep for twelve hours and even when awake escape to the safe place in my mind.
Well, I'm Buddhist, Ray, and so part of my Buddhism has allowed me to look a little more deeply at people and the events in my life that created me. And I think a lot of that Buddhism comes out in the world view in this novel.
I feel comfortable in Spanish, I chat like a parrot, but I don't have the confidence in Spanish that I do in English.
I think people should read fairy tales, because we're hungry for a mythology that will speak to our fears.
I don't see any kind of mirror of power, male power, that is, as a form of liberation. I don't believe in an eye for an eye. I don't believe this is truly freedom.
Writing is like sewing together what I call these 'buttons,' these bits and pieces.
But I deal with this meditating and by understanding I've been put on the planet to serve humanity. I have to remind myself to live simply and not to overindulge, which is a constant battle in a material world.
The older I get, the more I'm conscious of ways very small things can make a change in the world. Tiny little things, but the world is made up of tiny matters, isn't it?
I spent my thirties living out of boxes and moving every six months to a year. It was my cloud period: I just wandered like a cloud for ten years, following the food supply. I was a hunter, gatherer, an academic migrant.
I felt a failure because I couldn't sustain myself from what I earned from my writing. My day jobs were what mattered, and it was hard to even get those because universities wouldn't hire me as a real writer.
All of my work is influenced by fairy tales, and I hope my work shows Hans Christian Anderson's influence.
I was a little press writer when the National Endowment for the Arts came to my rescue and gave me an award. I couldn't buy a light bulb. Almost more than the money, the awards are important because they show that someone believes in you.
I realize that when I moved out of my father's house I shocked and frightened him because I needed a room of my own, a space of my own to reinvent myself.
I always tell people that I became a writer not because I went to school but because my mother took me to the library. I wanted to become a writer so I could see my name in the card catalog.
I usually say Latina, Mexican-American or American Mexican, and in certain contexts, Chicana, depending on whether my audience understands the term or not.
My feminism is humanism, with the weakest being those who I represent, and that includes many beings and life forms, including some men.
One press account said I was an overnight success. I thought that was the longest night I've ever spent.
Sometimes I feel I can't quite master my written and spoken Spanish, because I'm too much a student of English. I would need another lifetime to learn it.
My father never wanted me to be a writer. He didn't – he came to terms with it maybe two years before he died. He wanted me to be a weather girl because when I was growing up, there were very few Latinas on television, and in the early '70s when you first started seeing Latinas on TV, they would be the weather girls.
I thought that strange syntax was the language of story books. I didn't realize those were poor translations… English from Edwardian times.
Perhaps the greatest challenge has been trying to keep my time to myself and my private life private in order to do my job. Everything that is most mine belongs to everyone now.
And the nice thing about writing a novel is you take your time, you sit with the character sometimes nine years, you look very deeply at a situation, unlike in real life when we just kind of snap something out.
For a writer, for the solitude to write, you don't need a room of your own, you need a house.
I am a woman, and I am a Latina. Those are the things that make my writing distinctive. Those are the things that give my writing power.
I was silent as a child, and silenced as a young woman; I am taking my lumps and bumps for being a big mouth, now, but usually from those whose opinion I don't respect.
I grew up listening to the Beatles and being an ardent Beatles fan when I was in third grade all the way to adulthood, and listening to all kinds of music that came to us either at the flea market or in our living rooms or on the 'Ed Sullivan' show – all these places we were influenced by.
What's always a challenge for me is that my Spanish is not the level of my English. Nor do I read in Spanish the way I read in English.
Generally if you're a daughter in a Mexican family, no one wants to tell you anything; they tell you the healthy lies about your family.
I try to be as honest about what I see and to speak rather than be silent, especially if it means I can save lives, or serve humanity.