For some writers, writing is just part of the day job. But for Sandra Cisneros, the internationally celebrated author of House on Mango Street and Martita, I Remember You, writing is a matter of life and death.
“I found, especially when I went through severe depressions, it’s because I wasn’t writing,” Cisneros said. “I have gotten sick when I haven’t written in urgent times. I have nightmares, I have dreams. I always feel dreams are poems your body writes and you have to analyse them.”
In an interview with The Independent about her upcoming appearance in the Santa Fe Literary Festival, Cisneros talked about the joy of owning a house, the importance of gaining independence as a woman, and her favourite: writing.
“Some people go to meditation or the church. And when I write, that is my meditation, that’s my church, that’s my analyst, that’s my way of avoiding taking medications. It keeps my face clear,” Cisneros said.
There is a certain light that radiates from Cisneros. Everything around her is colourful: from her personality to her beloved house in San Antonio, which was painted a bright periwinkle purple. Even now, talking from her bed, her pillows are decorated with a bold floral embroidery.
But as upbeat as Cisneros is, she is also a master of grief, and knows how to turn it into art like few others. While some shy away from loss and hurt, Cisneros said these emotions, more than any others, drive her impulse to sit down and write. Her belief is that being happy you can always write about later. Grief, on the other hand, demands urgency.
“It’s like when the rug is on one side of the washing machine and you have to hear the buzzer and you’ve got to stop the machine and relocate whatever that’s locking this washing machine so it can function”, Cisneros said. “I think grief is like that for us; it really breaks our heart into such pain that there’s no way we can make it go forward until we attend to it.”
Cisneros always finds an unexpected way to explain things. It’s a talent she undoubtedly got from her mom, whose unique phrases appear repeatedly in Cisneros’ work.
After the massive success of The House on Mango Street, she was frequently asked if, and when, she would write a novel. And, even though she went on to write several, Cisneros is deeply passionate about poetry. Poets, she believes, are the truth tellers (“the opposite of a poet is a politician”), the brave ones, the authentic ones. Cisneros believes authenticity is one of the best qualities a writer can have.
“Before, I was trying to write like everybody else and I didn’t realise the real key is to write like nobody else. What is it that I know that nobody knows? What can I write about that nobody else can write about like me?”
And even though there are still economical and societal pressures that come with being a celebrated author, what compels Cisneros to write, even nowadays, is the passion for her craft.
“If you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, to get published, to get an award, or to buy a house, then you’re never going to be a great writer,” Cisneros says. “Great writing comes from writing from your heart and writing with love on behalf of those you love with no personal agenda. That’s what great writing is. That’s what I learned.”
The inaugural Santa Fe Literary Festival will be taking place between 20-23 May 2022. The four-day event is set to explore issues at a time of extraordinary change – in politics, race, immigration, the environment, and more. The Independent, as the event’s international media partner, will be providing coverage across each day of the festival as well as during the lead up with exclusive interviews with some of the headline authors. For more on the festival visit our Santa Fe Literary Festival section or visit the festival’s website here. To find out more about buying tickets click here.