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Michelle Newby is contributing editor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Foreword Reviews, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com. Her reviews appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.
SANDRA CISNEROS is the author of two widely acclaimed novels, a story collection, two books of poetry, and, most recently, Have You Seen Marie? She is the recipient of numerous awards, including National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, the Lannan Literary Award, the American Book Award, the Thomas Wolfe Prize, and a MacArthur Fellowship. Her work has been translated into more than twenty languages. Cisneros is the founder of the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral and Macondo Foundations, which serve creative writers. She lives in Mexico.
Alfred A. Knopf
Hardcover, 978-0-385-35133-1 (also available as ebook and audiobook), 400 pgs., $28.95
October 6, 2015
As I write this, I’m ending my sixth decade. A new cycle in my life is opening and old one is closing. I wish to look backward and forward all at once.
A House of My Own: Stories from My Life by Sandra Cisneros is an autobiography of sorts, an assemblage of nonfiction pieces spanning the years 1984 through 2014. Cisneros has always written about borders: personal, political, cultural, sexual, spiritual, geographical; she has always written about identity; and she’s always been searching for her true home. “I’m gathering up my stray lambs…and herding them under one roof, not so much for the reader’s sake, but my own. Where are you, my little loves, and where have you gone? Who wrote these and why? I have a need to know, so that I can understand my life.”
Born in Chicago to a working-class Mexican American family, the lone girl among six sons, Cisneros attended graduate school at the Iowa Writers Workshop. She had to create her own path, not blazing but creeping, hacking through the undergrowth. She had not yet discovered a template for what she needed to be and how she wanted to live. “Then it occurred to me that none of the books in this class [grad school], in any of my classes, in all the years of my education had ever discussed a house like mine. I went home that night and realized my education had been a lie — had made presumptions about what was “normal,” what was American, what was of value. I got mad [and] asked myself what I could write about that my classmates couldn’t. I was trying as best I could to write the kind of book I’d never seen in a library or in a school…it was out of this negative experience that I found something positive: my own voice.”
Constructed in much the same manner as The House on Mango Street — vignettes that, taken together, describe a whole — the work in A House of My Own is taken from essays, lectures, feature articles, travel pieces, introductions written for art books, museum catalogs, letters. I did wish for a different arrangement, more flow or thematic cohesion, because this chronological order jumps from subject to subject with no transitions. The effect is sometimes discordant. The photographs Cisneros has chosen are a joy, many candid and family shots, and she provides us with a stellar to-be-read list as she reflects on authors who inspired her.
We get the privileges of watching Cisneros evolve her particular consciousness. Paradoxically (or logically), the most affecting pieces involve feminist fire or Cisneros family dynamics: growing up the only girl who, no matter how old she gets, wants her father to be proud. There is no self-indulgent navel-gazing in A House of My Own, but genuine examination. Cisneros has provided a template for those of us who follow.
Is home something you move toward instead of going back? Homesickness, then, would be a malaise not for a place left behind in memory, but one remembered in the future.
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