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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.

"The negative effect is not a comment on her work but on the system, which uses Sandra as the token author, quota filled, no need to add any other brown voices to the collection," Lopez laments. "So as her work gives voice, it becomes the voice, and in that sense, perpetuates the idea of Mexican-American literature as a single-lined song rather than a polyphonic one. My hope is that she is a gateway, that some high school student gets curious and asks the important question, 'Who else is out there?' Then hunts for these other authors."

As Lopez and a several others can attest, Cisneros has been more than a gateway. She has also provided grants.

Christine Granados, author of the Brides and Sinners in El Chuco, recalls the life-changing phone call from one of her favorite authors. "When I answered it, this woman said, 'Hello, Christine, this is Sandra Cisneros.' I said, 'Oh?' then waited for the punch line, because I knew someone was fucking with me. Then Sandra talked, she talked a mile-a-minute like she does, and it sounded important what she was saying, but I didn't hear anything after she said, 'awarded the $11,000 Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award.'"

In shock, initially because Sandra Cisneros was on the line, and then because she was being given an award she didn't even know she had been nominated for, Granados wanted to get plastered. Instead, good mother that she is, she took her kids to Dairy Queen for some Dilly Bars.

Aside from playing Santa, Cisneros has no doubt helped people own their own voices. Erasmo Guerra, a writer from the Rio Grande Valley now based in New York, recalls how he was inspired by the author. "I first met Sandra Cisneros in 1994. Her book of poems Loose Woman had just been published and she was having a reading at a Barnes and Noble in Manhattan. I'd moved to New York from Texas a few months earlier and when I came up and introduced myself, Sandra announced, 'What's a Tejanito like you doing in a city like this?' Um, well, didn't every beginning writer have to 'pay his dues' by moving to New York and, I dunno, 'have experiences' to write about? I thought that's what I was supposed to do."

In creating Macondo, Erasmo stressed, Sandra demonstrated that writers don't have to flock to New York to find a literary community. "We could make those literary connections right there in Texas," he said. In 2000, Erasmo joined a dozen other writers at that first writing workshop. They met in Sandra's kitchen. "We didn't have a name yet and we weren't exactly public about the gathering because Sandra was supposed to be finishing Caramelo — not having a dozen people over at her house every night to read and discuss their own work."

Of course Macondo has not helped everyone. Some see their experience with Cisneros as depleting.

Victoria Garcia-Zapata Klein, a teen model who survived generational and domestic abuse to become a poet and activist, sees her time with the author as ultimately a hindrance to her writing career. From 1996 to 2000, she worked as Sandra's personal assistant. Cisneros, once an enthusiastic advocate of the poet, helped to fund the Poesía Tejana book series that gave Zapata-Klein her first publication Peace in the Corazon. According to Klein, Cisneros also insisted on writing the blurb on the back cover, something that Klein expressly did not want, as she believed it would make her appear to be Cisneros's protégé. In addition, relates Klein, Cisneros utilized her power as funder to act as editor, deciding which poems would — or would not — be in the book.

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