Over the years, Mexican-American poet and best-selling author Sandra Cisneros has earned many awards and accolades. Now, she has a new honor to add to the list: the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame’s Fuller Award for lifetime achievement.
Reset talked to Cisneros about receiving the award, her relationship with Chicago and her career.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
How did you react when you heard you were chosen for this award?
I always bash Chicago. Chicago is kind of like an old boyfriend or ex-husband that you’ve been divorced from. You think, “Oh I can’t believe he’s doing this now. How sweet.” It’s a reconciliation for me because I had such negative experiences that I always write about. But now, I’m 66 years old. Even if you had bad experiences with a spouse or lover, when you’re 66, you look at your past in a different way. You have clarity that you don’t have when you’re angry, young and reacting.
What does this award mean to you?
I have a lot of unresolved issues with Chicago. And to me, it’s a reconciliation, a healing. Something that’s been happening a long time in my life now with people and places that I felt negative emotions about, that I felt sadnesses about or frustrations are resolving themselves.
But it was so necessary that I was born in Chicago because it also planted a seed for writing and creativity.
It’s been more than 35 years since you published The House on Mango Street. Why do you think this novel has resonated with so many readers?
I think that I was able to reach non-readers as well as book lovers because it’s a small, slender book. It doesn’t intimidate non-readers and it’s written in a language that’s very simple. So even if you grew up in Taipei, Oslo or Chicago, people recognize something of themselves in that story. It becomes a universal story and that’s what I wanted. I never say it’s Chicago in the book. I wanted the reader from Tokyo or Tripoli to read it and say, “Oh, I know these people. That’s my street too.”
This award from the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame acknowledges your contributions to the city’s literary landscape. I’m quite certain you have many more words to write. Tell us what’s next.
I hope so. I have so much to say, and I’m so grateful to everyone who gave me the award and to Chicago. When I come into Chicago now, it’s a pleasure. I miss Chicago. My family’s there and there’s so much I enjoy now. I’m not the younger writer struggling. I’m the older writer who’s celebrated now when I come back.
I’m the mother of other writers in Chicago and that’s so great. I chose not to have children in this lifetime because I could hardly afford to take care of me. But I love having my literary family.
GUEST: Sandra Cisneros, best-selling poet and author of The House On Mango Street