September 17, 2007

Cisneros Writes to Make Peace — With Self and Others

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Sandra Cisneros does not only tell stories in her fiction, she carries them with her on her skin — she has a tattoo on her left arm she calls “the Buddhalupe,” a female version of Buddha, with a third eye on the figure’s hand to remind her to always “look deeply.”
“[It wasn’t] so bad,” she recalled of the day she got the tattoo. “Love hurts more than that.”
Students, faculty and other fans of Cisneros filled Schwartz Auditorium last Thursday, sitting on the floor in front or standing in the back to listen to her stories and essays as part of the Fall 2007 Reading Series.
“She is one of the most often requested writers [to come to Cornell],” said Prof. Stephanie Vaughn, director of the Creative Writing Program. “And most requested by everyone — students, professors, other writers, just about anyone who reads.”
Cisneros is the author of the popular novel The House on Mango Street, which is required reading in many schools across the country. Her other works include Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, a collection of short stories, and Caramelo, a novel. She has won numerous awards including the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1995 and most recently the Texas Medal of the Arts in 2003.
“She is a literary risk-taker, a violator who is also and best of all a creator who makes wonderful people out of language,” said Prof. Molly Hite, chair of the English Department.” “[They are] made with dream-like shifts and emotion and mobility, passion, absurdity and of course the Cisneros trademark — lists.”
Strongly influenced by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and peace activist, Cisneros described him as “her greatest teacher” and said his book Being Peace changed her life.
Despite the serious nature of her plea for peace, Cisneros still managed to make the audience laugh along the way.
“I wrote a letter to Mrs. Laura Bush when Caramelo came out, and I sent her Caramelo, and I sent her Being Peace,” Cisneros said. “And I said when she finishes reading it, could she please give it to that guy she lives with?”
Cisneros urged the audience to take an introspective look at the relationships in their own lives. “Work for peace by making peace with everybody in your own lives — with your mother, your daughter, even that guy across the street who parks his car in your driveway — make peace with these people!”
She also read a scene from Caramelo about a long, hot family car ride. In her retelling, she not only acted out the voices of each of her characters, but turned her head to give the feeling of voices coming from the different corners of the car.
“I thought it was a really fantastic reading. She’s certainly a very enigmatic person, you can feel her charisma,” said Meredith Ramirez Talusan grad.
Cisneros described the challenges of writing her novel Caramelo. “Sometimes, it was like pushing a Buick with my forehead.”
She said that, while it can difficult or emotional, the writing process is still essential.
“Whatever shakes you up — joy or pain — we have to write about it.”
Cisneros does not confine herself to any particular genre or form of writing and often works by writing out of order.
“I’m not a photocopy machine,” she said. “I never know what’s going to come out. It’s like fishing line, you never know if you’ll reel in a fish or a boot.”
Much of her writing is told from the perspective of a young girl, due to her own identification with this viewpoint.
“The farther away you get in years, the closer you can see it. To me, I’m 11 years old. It’s real easy for me to go into that voice. Some people ask, ‘How do you remember?’ But I say, ‘How do you forget?’”
Cisneros’ writings about her own family and Latina heritage inspire others to write about what is important to them.
“You find out that when you love the subject, when you really are passionate about it, it’s going to mean something to the audience,” said Sarah Kennedy ’10. “She gives you the strength you need to write about what matters most to you, so it can matter to someone else.”
The reading was sponsored by two anonymous donors who are Cornell University alumni.