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Arts & Culture

Sandra Cisneros's defenders and detractors debate what the celebrated author has meant to San Antonio and Latino literature

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Sandra Cisneros with her dog, Barney, aka Barnitos.

Photo: , License: N/A

Cisneros, circa 2006. Photo by Ray Santisteban.

It was Cisneros who Gonzalez credits for introducing her to the works of Mexican writers and Chicana writers and poets and gave her "permission" to write with a pointed observance. "She also asked me the best question, ever: 'How does it feel to have a brother in prison?' This is when I knew I had to write. She simply changed my life."

But like that song by Cyndi Lauper (another woman who was in her early thirties when she hit it big time in the '80s), money changes everything. Or at least it casts a curious pall over a persona that is known for writing class-conscious fiction like Woman Hollering Creek: And Other Stories, a 1991 collection that brought gender and immigrant issues to the fore.

For her part, Sandra will not discuss money, except to note that she does not have nearly as much as the people who are demanding that she constantly fund projects seem to think. "Everything changed for me when I got the MacArthur Grant," she says. The grant currently comes with a $500,000 dollar monetary award but was half that when she received it in 1995. "That's when people started treating me really different." And by "really different," she means with resentment. "Let me just warn you, there are a lot of people out there that want to tear me down, because they see in me something that they would like to be and are not." She's not wrong. One of the difficult things I encountered while working on this piece was the slew of "off the record" comments hurled at me.

Cisneros's most direct contribution to the literary community is the workshop she started in her kitchen now verging on an international affair. Macondo, named for the fictional community in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, is a successful writers workshop that, according to Cisneros, for two weeks out of the year turns a city of extreme illiteracy into a literary scene. Milligan agrees. "The Macondo gatherings, workshops and events have brought a lot of good writers to San Antonio," he said, "which is not only good for the writers studying with them, but good for the reputation of the city as a literary place."

The annual event, which started out as a primarily Chicano/Chicana gathering, has over the years become a more cosmopolitan coterie. "I was drawn to the idea of a community of writers whose cultural orientation, experiences, [and] position inform and contextualize their literary production," said Shin Yu Pai, one of five Asian-American writers in the 2010 Macondo group that included several African-American writers as well. "I wasn't sure what I would get out of it." Pai, whose primary métier was poetry, decided to take a class on digital storytelling with artist Agnes Chavez and used her time at Macondo to make a short digital film with still images and sound, resulting in the production of a "book trailer" for her latest collection of poetry, Adamantine. "I appreciated this diversity and was grateful to be a part of the group."

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