Sandra Cisnerosthe acclaimed author of The House on Mango Streetgot angry at the Miami Book Fair: “It gives me courage!”, he said. she was introducing Manuel Munozanother bicultural writer like her, who has just published the collection of short stories The Consequences. “It infuriates me that they treat us like we are undocumented aliens of American letters.”
His phrase of praise for the back cover of The Consequences pointed to the center of the (literary) discrimination suffered by Hispanic authors, who are so American as Latinos: “Manuel Muñoz is a great American writer who sees with his heart; as big as Juan Rulfo when he writes about the poor.
When Muñoz’s previous book came out, The Faith Healer of Olive Avenuethe reviews in a major media outlet “put it in a kind of subcategory,” he told the audience gathered at the Miami-Dade College for the fair Cisneros, also angry on that occasion, wrote to that medium: “The stories are universal,” she explained.
They would never send a book of john updike to some subcategory, he compared, and went further: “Why don’t we see these books being taken seriously and reviewed as part of American letters? I think of Juan Rulfo as an author from the Americas and you are writing from that place in the Americas”.
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The audience accompanied each inflection of the expressive author of Candy Y My Wicked Wicked Ways: indignation, joy, sarcasm. So he invited people to participate: he named the writers present in the room —among them the poet Richard Whitewho read in the second presidential inauguration of Barack Obama— and ignited applause. With a powerful mastery of tempothe winner of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship He turned to Muñoz and asked:
“And how do you know so much about women’s lives?”
Then the event itself began: the presentation and reading of The Consequences and the new collection of poems by Cisneros, Woman Without Shame. She had been the author of Loose Woman I did not publish poetry.
I don’t know if I know that much. But I have learned to be observant. I am the youngest of five and I grew up in a women’s home: my mother, my sisters and my grandmother. So my whole sense of morality, the importance of treating others kindly but standing up when necessary, comes from there. When I started writing I didn’t have that perspective: I met myself through young experience. queer in the area where I grew up, the central valley of California. But then I wondered where the experience of women was.
-Now it’s your turn. Ask me something,” Cisneros asked.
—Why did you take 28 years between one book of poetry and another?
—Because I was writing fiction and essays, prose. And because when you tell your agent or your editor that you’re writing, they ask you —he imitated enthusiasm— “What are you writing?” faking disappointment.
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Cisneros thanked his current editor, john freemanfor the exit of Woman Without Shame, which has been translated into Spanish by Liliana Valenzuela. “He began to sweep the materials that were under my bed. It is very difficult for me to share writing when it is incomplete. But he was able to see which poems he should throw away and which he could publish.” He is, he stressed, the first editor in his long career to show him an ear and a love of poetry.
Something similar, he added, happens when a writer works on a story: “Agents and editors ask you ‘But where is the novel?'”. Muñoz laughed: he once had that experience. But he did not demoralize him: “I like the precision of the stories,” he explained. “And that they give you the opportunity to tell the widest variety of stories possible.”
The exchange slid towards the readings: Muñoz’s soft voice shared a page from “The Reason is Because” (a short story awarded with the O.Henry Award) and Cisneros read the poem “Saturnino” with very intense emotions.
“There are different kinds of poetry,” she reflected, and defined the one she likes to write as one for a broad, non-specialized audience. “Just as in fiction I try to write prose that sounds poetic, in poetry I try to write verse that sounds like a narrative,” she explained. “There is a kind of crossing.”
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The meeting closed with questions from the public. “How do you acquire poetic technique?” someone asked. “I would start by telling you to read poetry, a lot of poetry,” Muñoz replied. “I remember that when I finished my master’s degree I decided ‘I’m going to read the things that I couldn’t read in class’ and I realized that I had failed to read poetry”.
Another person wanted to know what the writing sequence of a poem is like, and Cisneros was quick to respond: “For me the ending is always important. I never know how a poem ends when I start it. If I know what the ending is, I’d better write an essay; if I know what the end is, it is not a poem”.
The writer, whose books have been translated into twenty-five languages and in the United States are part of school programs, closed with an image: “A poem begins as if you had a kite in your heart, it is something that pulls you. And then the poem is the kite: you have to run after it and make it rise.
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