“We all need to have art in our lives and writing is art.” I’m paraphrasing what I heard Sandra Cisneros say while I listened to her speak, in her melodious voice, to a standing room only crowd of over 200 people. She spoke at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in Sylmar, California, located at the edge of a strip mall across from the new Fresh and Easy. Every seat was taken, every wall held up by shoulders, every piece of floor space and some laps taken up by listeners.
I’ve been to Tia Chucha’s twice, when visiting my friend Pati, who lives up the hill from there, but we either get there too early or too late and peer in the windows between the posters and flyers. Yesterday was the first time I’ve been inside. I’m early (no more Chicano time for me) and there are still seats. I give a quick glance at the book table and remember I don’t have “House on Mango Street” anymore because I lent it out to someone. The 25th Anniversary Edition of HOMS is there and I snag a copy.
There is an open seat towards the middle of the room filled with wall to wall fold out chairs and I settle in while the place overflows with more than 200 people. Most of the audience drove from more than thirty minutes away, most are under 35 years old, and half attend college. I am in the ten percent of people over forty five years of age. I know this because she polled the crowd.
I mentioned Sandra’s dulcet voice ( yes I’m calling her by her first name as if we were comadres or amigas), because its softness and her inflections make you feel like she knows you. She can do this even in a huge university room, like Campbell Hall at UCSB where I heard her speak, in her cute pajamas, three months ago. There is an intimacy in her written voice that touched my heart many years ago when I first read “House on Mango Street.” Her stories and poems speak about where I have been, and that she’s been there too.
The selected reading was from her upcoming book, and I don’t remember it’s title but it’s coming out in the fall. She read a story about “Marie.” It was about two little girls looking for their lost cat in their neighborhood. Sandra read in several different character voices: male, female, young, old, and cat. I was there with her, looking under hedges, behind fences, peeking into dry yellowed backyards, pausing on stoops, knocking on doors. It takes an outstanding writer to do this to you, while you’re sitting in a hot crowded audience on steel fold out chairs. But she does.
Sandra invites people to ask questions. Yes she has two more books coming in the fall, she’s collaborating on several projects as co-author, her friend Lourdes Portillo is completely a screenplay for “House on Mango Street,” and the crowd is thrilled with that disclosure. She is entering into another part of her life now, seeking change, moving from San Antonio, Texas. Mexico is calling. I think it’s Oaxaca, only because her website has a recent photo of her in Oaxaca and she has a message to her readers about change.
I ask her whether she has thought about publishing e-books. “Yes, the publishing world is also undergoing change, shifting…” She will publish her books as e-books and she owns all of the publishing rights. Very smart woman. “I’m not married to a university or a rich man…so I don’t have a pension…further publishing (with e-books) is my pension.” I’m happy that she will do this and I want to tell her that, but I don’t. I know there are so many other questions to be asked.
The reading and question/answer period seemed short, a fleeting seventy-five minutes. The audience is instructed to line up in a certain area for book signings. The queue quickly forms to over fifty people before the second half of the building empties out. I hope Sandra has a wrist brace so she doesn’t tire out her writing hand. She has so much more art to create and I have so much more to read.