Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Report on Sandra Cisneros' Visit to Kansas City

Gabriela N. Lemmons introduces Sandra Cisneros Thursday, April 16.

Sandra Cisneros holds up photo of herself when she first wrote The House on Mango Street.

I'm late getting up any coverage of Sandra Cisneros' visit to Kansas City. Mainly, it's because of a continuing overload of work and deadlines. But I don't want to let too much time go by without scribbling a few lines about what was a phenomenal experience, both for me and for the Latino Writers Collective. And for that matter, for Kansas City!

Kansas City loves Sandra. There's no doubt about that. Over 800 people turned out at the Central Library (a huge refurbished bank with marble halls and wood paneled offices) to hear Sandra talk about the books she's currently working on and read from the new preface to the 25th anniversary edition of The House on Mango Street, as well as a wonderful excerpt from a new book talking about the pivotal role libraries played in her life and success.

Sandra Cisneros shows audience photo of her late parents.

Later during the long, stimulating question and answer session, the dialogue ranged from the need to write down the stories of the people we love or someone else will write them without knowing the truth to how to balance one's desire for creative success and one's need to serve the community to "female agency." ("Do you mean feminism?" Sandra asked as the audience roared in approval. "Well, yes, I'm a feminist.")

After the standing ovation that she had truly earned, she sat for hours and signed books, giving so generously of herself when she was very tired. Every person who came through the line that snaked around the entire interior of the library to the entrance, got to talk to her as long as s/he wanted, was allowed to hug her and have a photo taken with her. And she gave the same consideration to the ones carrying their old books as to the ones with the new edition just purchased at the table run by Rainy Day Books--and just as much to the young people carrying no books and asking her to sign their flyers of the event. I have seen and brought in a lot of writers and speakers, some very famous, and I have never known anyone to give so much of herself to her audience and fans.

The next day was the same as she spoke to over 200 high school students at the Plaza Library and then spoke to each individually as they lined up as everyone had the night before, even though there were no books for sale. I watched those kids, many of whom had come in with sullen faces or trying to look blasé and cool, walk away starry-eyed and full of ambition and hope.

Later that evening, she spoke and read in Spanish to new immigrants on Southwest Boulevard, giving a dramatic performance from her novel, Caramelo. And again, she ended by speaking and listening to each of the 60-some attendees with exquisite focus and attention on every one of them.

It's no wonder that Kansas City loves Sandra Cisneros-- and wants her to come back. I've been receiving emails and phone calls ever since from people wanting to know when she will appear again. Word is circulating quickly around the city about this remarkable visit. In talking with the Library folks, who also want a return visit, we decided that next time we'd have to get an even bigger venue just to hold all the people who will show up for la Sandra.

Also, as the Latino Writers Collective has learned, Sandra is a true mentor of writers. She has given much encouragement (read: a real push) to members to apply to the Macondo Workshop. She has said she will help us bring in other great Latino writers. She has shown real interest in our work in the community and in our books.

Phenomenal visit, phenomenal writer, phenomenal speaker, phenomenal woman. One of a kind.

(Photos copyrighted and courtesy of Oscar Pedroza.)

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