Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street and the new nonfiction collection A House of My Own: Stories From My Life came to The First Congregational Church of Berkeley to talk about life, family, and the power of writing at an event presented by KPFA Radio 94.1FM.
The darkness had already swept over the city of Berkeley as I made my way to the distinguished church to see Sandra Cisneros. This was week five of her seven-week tour for the new book. If you are unfamiliar with Cisneros’ work, she has written in multiple genres, including but not limited to novels, poetry, a children’s book, and numerous short stories. As I stepped inside, I was greeted by bright white lights and stained glass windows with webbed designs. The entryway was buzzing with chatter before the event began. Up the stairs there was a spacious view from our balcony seats inside blue carpeted pews. A mixed crowd was in attendance, full of older couples, students fresh out of lecture with their backpacks on the floor, and various Sandra enthusiasts.
Host for the evening Vylma V emerged on the stage to give an introduction in English and Spanish describing Sandra’s various achievements in the literary sphere. Her enthusiastic tone matched the atmosphere throughout the church. Following a brief biography, Sandra Cisneros appeared from behind a curtain as if a magic wand had been waved. Roars of applause erupted as she took her place at the podium. She put on a pair of reading glasses and immediately began reading excerpts from her book. All of the pre-event chatter silenced as Sandra chose to read about her mother first. In the first hour she covered an array of topics from death, family dynamics, all the way to the moment she finished writing The House on Mango Street in Greece.
Once the interview portion began, the conversation dove into politics, education, life in Mexico, and how members of society connect with one another. Vylma posed detailed questions and Sandra answered in a way that always came back to the power words have. Despite the church being filled to the brim, there was never a moment when that mattered. Sandra made the point that everyone needs to write or make art in order to take control of their memories and share their dreams. This is something that is rarely encouraged, which was the case in her youth as well. As a 60 year-old woman, she also touched on age and how your 20s are awful but you get through them to arrive at something beautiful. Questions from the audience were then presented, and a majority of them were requests for advice on writing. Although there were many tidbits of wisdom, one of the best was:
Write with the intent not to share it.
The possibility of being published or fame sometimes clouds the purpose of writing and this piece of advice from someone so well-established is definitely something to keep in mind.
Throughout the evening Cisneros exemplified what it is to be comfortable in your own skin. She provided a glimpse of her many literary experiences and presented a definite philosophy on life: it should be about connecting with our hearts and writing our truth. The evening ended with a standing ovation, and the electricity remained in the room long after the multitude of people began to disperse. For me, this event was way beyond a typical Q&A because I walked away with a fresh perspective on life. It was an inspiring evening with a woman who uses all of her experiences to move forward.
A House of My Own: Stories From My Life is currently available wherever books are sold. Support your independent booksellers!