Sandra Cisneros Inspires Scripps Women to Find their Own Voice and Vision
by Jenny Schroedel
“If you have to write to make sense of what’s going on in your life, you’re a writer.” So said author Sandra Cisneros who spoke at Scripps as part of the College’s 75th Anniversary Celebration: The Scripps community came out in great numbers to hear the best-selling author of The House on Mango Street and Woman Hollering Creek, on September 25 in the Malott Commons.
Indeed, the appeal of Cisneros these days is wide, and her works, which include fiction, poetry, essays, and a children’s book, are studied in a variety of disciplines from literature to Chicana studies to U.S. hstory.
The daughter of a Mexican father and a Chicana mother, Cisneros’ childhood was spent between Mexico City and Chicago. Cisneros writes extensively from her cultural background, describing her unique literary voice as “working-class, Mexican-American woman with an independent sexuality.” Never afraid to tackle controversial subject matter, she explores issues such as religion, alienation, sexuality, and oppression in a direct and no frills manner. “I mean to raise hell,” she says, “and I think my stories do. I’m very curious to see how they will be understood or misunderstood.”
Cisneros enthralled the audience with readings from two of her works-the essay, “Guadelupe, the Sex Goddess,” and a chapter from an upcoming novel. “Guadelupe” is an essay on Latina womanhood. “I’m overwhelmed by the silence of Latina women on their bodies,” she explained. As someone “obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her skin,” Cisneros urged other women to do the same. Cisneros considers Caramelo, a novel she has been working on for nine years, the most difficult book she has ever written, as it is most directly based on her own family.
Cisneros peppers her writing with Spanish, explaining that at times there simply is no adequate cultural and literal translation. But she feels that non-Spanish speakers can understand the basic meaning of her phrases through context. “Language is a way of finding your DNA – coming back home. Of course, the readers who are going to like my stories the best and catch all the subtexts and all the subtleties are Chicanas.. .But I also am very conscious about opening doors for people who don’t know the culture.”
To aspiring writers she had these suggestions: “When you sit down to write, imagine you have six hours to live-what would you say?” She suggested to those in the audience interested in writing to make a list of 10 things that make them different from anybody in this room, from anyone of their gender, ethnicity, neighborhood. She told them to write from that place-“because that place is your gift to the universe. You should write or teach or heal from that place – your center.”
What kind of writing does Cisneros enjoy? Biographies, spiritual books, and books “about crazy women,” she said. Her favorite is the Book of Embraces by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. She is also deeply influenced by the writings of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Buddhism appeals to her because it is about finding your roots. The ability of this author to explore and find her own roots and her own voice is an inspiration to anyone familiar with her work.
Students Review Cisneros
I admired how she [Cisneros] explored the role of culture and relgion – and their influences – in shaping the way women identify, interact, and respond with their bodies and sexuality. Women, she shared with the Scripps attendees, must learn to understand and love their bodies and their sexual nature. It is this transparency in Sandra’s writing, and her proactive nature in carrying out a proclaimed vision for feminine strength and confidence that truly reflected her voice.
Now, one chapter along in my thesis, I am beginning to feel comfortable writing, in what Cisneros calls, my own voice. Thanks to Sandra Cisneros’ lecture one ordinary Wednesday eve, I will approach my thesis chapter two with much more zeal, putting my project into words that relate from my experiences from within.
Caroline Miceli ’02
She has an amazing voice, and even though I didn’t understand any of the Spanish that freckled her writing, it was still amazing. I liked particularly the piece she read from her novel under construction – to hear something that wonderful and that raw from a recognized author is inspiring to my own writing.
Allison Ryan ’05
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