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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.

Klein said that she did not have the strength to speak up for herself at the time because she was in recovery from an abusive relationship and was awestruck by Cisneros.

Working for Cisneros entailed tending to a mini-menagerie. Klein walked the dogs, fed the cats, and cleaned parrots' cage "while Sandra got massages."

"I did everything for that woman but wipe her butt," says Klein who, though she appreciates all that Cisneros initially did for her, feels that "what has been most exhausting about the whole experience was seeing her lose her way, watching her let go of the people who really cared for her while letting fame and fortune get in the way." Klein also says that she helped organize workshops and spent time with writers who she said Sandra was technically supposed to be mentoring. And during public events, Klein was responsible for keeping the literary star safe from the eager grasp of desperate fans. Exhausted by her over-time hours working for Cisneros while raising her own child as a single mom, Klein said she was left with no stamina for writing. Yet when she tried to bow out of Macondo one year Cisneros insisted that she participate, telling her, "I don't want people to say that you're that girl who used to write until you started working for Sandra."

The relationship between the two devolved to such a state that the enmity flowed both ways. During a book signing, Cisneros refused to sign her ex-employee's copy of Caramelo. And the young poet who had once written an ode to the author called, "Sandra Sprouting en San Antonio" has just penned another poem — this one celebrating Cisneros's departure.

It must be tough being Sandra Cisneros, a public symbol of literary success grown so polarizing. In some ways her fame obscures her fiction. In the intro to House on Mango Street's 25th anniversary edition she writes of herself as a young woman who was interested in global experimental prose. With all the mandatory reading of her stories in so many classrooms, does anyone ever look at her work as being informed by Borges or Heinrich Böll?

When Cisneros and I were ending our conversation on the phone she revealed that she was actually multi-tasking — having jewelry appraised to further fund Macondo's international development before a trip to Mexico. "Are you that broke?" I joked. She responded that she often donates to local causes by selling her jewelry.

She suggests that, outside of a few extremely local friends, she is alone in the world. And that, in turn, she has chosen her audience and activism over individual contact. She tells me directly that while she used to let people in, no more. She guards herself from people "that suck your soul." She is both amused and not too happy about the unwanted attention her move has garnered. "I feel every time I open myself to an interview I am opening my heart to attacks," Cisneros wrote to me after declining a second interview. "I find the curiosity about myself one of the reasons why I've withdrawn from public life and why I have to move," she wrote via email. "I am in sanctuary trying to get to my own work, which is the most important gift I can give the public.

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