Iconic Chicana writer and poet Sandra Cisneros has written critically-acclaimed books, traveled far and wide, and learned invaluable life lessons along the way, but perhaps one of her proudest accomplishments is having collected a solid group of creative friends over her more than 40-year literary career.
On Monday afternoon, she told a sold out crowd for the Gemini Ink Autograph Series Luncheon at the McNay Art Museum that looking out into the audience – comprised of many of her longtime, local artist friends – was like traveling back in time.
“I see so many friends … and people from different parts of my life,” she said. “I’d forgotten some of the best memories I had from San Antonio until I got here.”
At the luncheon, she read a chapter from her newest book, A House of My Own: Stories from My Life, a collection of various stories, speeches and reflections she has written over her career. The chapter, “Tapicero‘s Daughter,” or “Upholsterer’s Daughter,” was a lecture Cisneros was commissioned to give by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
The lecture was intended for contemporary artists to focus on a particular object within the museum’s art collection, but Cisneros chose to focus on the upholstery in the museum, which allowed her the opportunity to reflect on the lessons she learned growing up as the daughter of a hardworking upholsterer and father of seven.
Through the process of examining various parts of the museum including the ironwork, ceramic pots, painted portraits, and the furniture inside, Cisneros was reminded of all of her artist friends – most of whom she met in San Antonio – which allowed her to connect with the museum’s namesake, Isabella Stewart Gardner, as a collector of sorts.
“I too am a collector,” she read aloud to the audience of local artists, young writers, and literary buffs. “In the course of my years in Texas, I’ve drawn near me an extraordinary collection of friends whose creativity inspires my own. They each teach me to take the time to admire what no one else might see, to trust what delights and uplifts the spirit.”
Cisneros interjected comments of praise for her San Antonio peers throughout her reading.
She mentioned writer Ito Romo; visual artist and muralist Terry Ybanez; and painter, activist, and performance artist David Zamora Casas, among others as influential in her journey as a writer.
“Sandra always supported so many artists in the community,” Ybanez said in a previous Rivard Report interview. “The only thing she ever expected back was the success of that artist.”
At Monday’s luncheon, it appeared that Cisneros has yet to lose focus of her longtime habit of uplifting fellow artists and writers. During the Q&A session that followed the reading, she candidly offered advice and insight on a range of topics, and garnered loud applause – and a few loud whistles – when she shared her stance on women’s rights in today’s society.
“Religious extremists try to take away women’s knowledge of their own bodies,” she said. “I think that women need to be able to control their own money, their own bodies, so that they can control their own destiny.”
She also had recommendations for the large number of young writers – both male and female – in attendance from various San Antonio high schools.
In such a polarizing time in our society concerning inflammatory topics like race and religion, she said, the world needs young writers and poets, especially those “on the margins,” to speak their truths. That is how different communities can gain a better understanding of each other.
Nearly everyone in attendance gathered in the McNay lobby after the luncheon, patiently waiting to have their copies of A House of My Own, The House on Mango Street, Caramelo, and other Cisneros classics signed by the bubbly writer herself who never hesitated to impart wisdom on anyone who asked.
It takes a lifetime to find your voice as a writer, she told the Rivard Report during the book signing, but part of it is making sure to add little pieces of yourself to your writing.
After signing their book and taking a photo, she sent each person off with a smile, leaving one to wonder if she realized that, like each of her friends and fellow artists who have inspired her, her words, activism, and pure kindness have inspired many writers like her.
Top image: Sandra Cisneros addresses the audience during her book signing luncheon. Photo by Scott Ball.