World-renowned author Sandra Cisneros spoke to more than 300 members of the Westridge community on Wednesday evening, capping off All-School Read day when students across the grades discussed the introduction to Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. The evening kicked off with a delightful shout out for Westridge alumnae Harriet Doerr '27*, who is one of Cisneros’s favorite authors.
Framed around the idea of writing as activism, the wide-ranging conversation began with a discussion of the author’s interest in working with young people and her thoughts on activism in writing. According to Cisneros, who believes deeply in working in service to others and especially those with little power, early in her career she had moments of thinking that “literature doesn’t save anyone.” Ultimately, her response was to write The House on Mango Street — or as she referred to it “House.” “I thought, why have I never seen my people written about with love,” said Cisneros.
Cisneros talked to students about the importance of writing history that readers don’t typically receive or that they wish they could find in a book. “Everyone has stories that haven’t been documented,” she said while speaking about how stories of people we love get forgotten if they are not documented.
Students had many questions for Cisneros about her books and sources of wisdom, her identity, and her writing process. Here are a few thoughts she had for our young writers:
- Tenacity is more important than talent.
- Cisneros doesn’t write every day, but she reads every day “always trying to find the book that will make me a better writer.”
- Whatever we create with love, for those we love, and without personal agenda, always turns out well.
- Words have power – do our words plant seeds of transformation, of peace, or of violence?
“What a gift it was to our community to have Sandra Cisneros join us,” said English Department Chair Jessica Bremmer, who organized the event. “She offered words of wisdom and love, a message about the power of our words, and a call to lead lives that honor our true selves and that recognize our interconnectedness and responsibility to the people and things around us. She was an amazing ray of light, and I hope everyone left that conversation feeling as inspired and hopeful as I did.”
*Harriet Doerr ´27 took up writing late in life. Her first novel, Stones for Ibarra, was published in 1984 when Doerr was 73 years old. It won a National Book Award that year, for First Work of Fiction. Her second novel, Consider This, Señora, was published in 1993, and a collection of short stories and essays, Tiger in the Grass: Stories and Other Inventions, followed in 1995.