On The Same Page; Sandra Cisneros: House On Mango Street
Welcome to on the same page we're here at River Market books and gifts in the Cox Creative Center here in downtown Little Rock. The program if Arkansas read the same book is coming around again it is sponsored by the Center for the book at the Arkansas State Library this year the selection is the House on Mango Street. We're going to sit down have a discussion with the author and then sit down with some of your fellow readers and discuss the House on Mango Street. Coming up on the same page. Sandra Cisneros joins us now she grew up in Chicago Illinois she has a B.A. in English from Loyola University went to the master's Iowa Writers Workshop. Winner of the pan Award for fiction.
Number of books acclaimed books including The Bad Boys woman hollering Creek Carol Morello which the sales of which your rank are is the number one selling Latino author in the United States in the House on Mango Street is what we're going to talk about today. Thank you for your time today. You're welcome. For all of our readers in Arkansas we're going to pick up this book and read it. What would be helpful for them to know about you and your background. Well I think it would be helpful for them not to presume that house among the street by a biography I think a lot of times people feel that it's so true that it had been to me the way I write is I take things that happened to other people. And at that in the case of that book it was my students and I cut and paste from memory from my mother's stories from my memories. And I make a composite so some of the stories are mine but I have to say the emotions they're all mine. And you say a lot of the stories from your students you were teaching at the time teaching high school dropouts
for more expansive. Look at how I wrote the book I have an essay that's in the hardback edition in the anniversary edition of Alzheimer's. And I have a website under my name to say that readers could look at that to kind of get a little bit of biographical data. Before the book came out of the book I guess it's classified as fiction. You wrote mostly poetry you'll understand that correctly poetry and short stories. I was trained as a poet. I taught myself to write fiction by trying to cross pollinate poetry and fiction and put them together. I wanted to write a book that you could open any place and just read one where you could read from left to the right and get another story. I think people vary and I think especially working class people don't have a lot of time so I wanted to give them something that had the brevity and system of poetry and the power of poetry but that wouldn't terrify them because sometimes when we open a book of poetry we think oh I can't
be had. I don't know what they're talking about. But if you see a little story that's a paragraph long it's less threatening. Something that a lady at Dunkin Donuts who gives you the change could read or a bus driver could read a taxi cab driver and actually all of those people have read the book and tell me they've enjoyed it so I reached it and that is the street Texan. Is there a technical name for this style. When I began them I was calling them then yes but it's actually a story cycle and there are cultures that have story cycles of course like the methodology in India the Native Americans have seasonal story cycles. I didn't know about these models when I was writing the book I thought I was just doing a little series of vignettes where it's a novel. You didn't know that it had a historical for us. No I was looking at like Latin American writers like Hess who write short stories but also writes poetry and then he did these little
vignettes in a book called Dream Tigers the University of Texas published when he was visiting. And that book had to me the best of poetry and fiction you know the brevity of poetry. But you know I was using that as a model. The stories the vignettes all seen through the eyes of the protagonist. It was a Esperanza core Dero Who is she. Well in real life I'd have to say it was a very powerless and sad English teacher. Me in my 20s this guy's in the voice of a younger woman. I get it and when I think I realize my class difference from my wealthier classmates It began from a lot of bio autobiographical emotion because my pieces always come from an emotion and the emotion was shame. I once I realized my class to friends I felt ashamed about being in the graduate program. And I felt like quitting. And fortunately I didn't.
And after you get through being ashamed then you get angry. And I use that anger to create House among the street. Fortunately I didn't stand gree. And many years later I started incorporating the stories of my students. So the book became a piece of fiction and not a memoir. The narrator sees and perceives in a way that's that it's very entertaining it's insightful it's depressing. And at some point and that's part of the style that I guess you were known for. I want to do just that. Will you have to bring your own and your lives are miserable and you want to be out there right now living the situation. I felt powerless to my women and my male students from the daily life was going to get them. I was teaching them how to write poetry and fiction teaching them about how
a better life ends and how to find a job. And now that this book was going to make its way back to that and people's lives from my heart as a teacher I had no idea that it was going to have this resonance and go out and be doing the work that it's doing which is to change a person's life to live moments in our lives. You know one we just feel like you can't go on one day more. So I put all of those questions and those grimness on the joys and the wonderful things of life and to the story and I just wrote it so I could go to sleep it. It really is remarkable the 48 44 did you say they've never been I've never counted
on me. Me I think I think it's around 40 for some of them include those moments you talk about those very destructive moments dramatic moments big happenings in the life of the the main character. Some of the vignettes are simple it is literally tying your shoe. I mean the very most everyday things I guess that the trick was to to to put them together and juxtapose them in just the way that the whole is really something that's greater. Well they look simple but they are hard to write a lot simpler to write. They're like writing a poem and I feel that people deserve the highest and the best art. Especially people that work for a living and work really hard with their hands in the bodies and come on exhausted so I wanted to make a book where they could just make it beautiful. And I used all of my training from all the books I've ever loved whether tense Christian Anderson. A Latin American writers like plan for orcas. I wanted to write something that was exquisite and as beautiful as high literature but written in a
language that anyone could understand and so I took the opposite of the voice that I saw at the academy the opposite of the voice I saw of my classmates in the poetry workshop and that was a working class girl poor girl and her voice so that people wouldn't be frightened off by this story. Her voice is the main storytelling tool. The characters are so important the people the neighbors the friends the people on the street the people she knows the people he doesn't know. The book has been praised because of the attention to a community rather than self-examination which I guess at that time many of your peers were into you're writing it at the University of taught that we could change and make our world better by what we did with our writing it was very much you know examining our own navel rather than looking out and saying what can we do. They can make our community better with our writing how can we use our art to serve our community. There was never a question of making social change. I was writing something that could save people's lives and fill them with hope and that can make a bad situation better.
But I learned so much being out in the field as an English teacher with high school dropouts and I encourage young people to do some volunteer work to whatever their community is you know maybe their community is you know working with the handicapped children or working at a hospice for people who have AIDS whatever it is that is your community. The more volunteer work you do I really feel that you get rewarded in ways that money can't reward. And I was hoping that the writing will allow people to see for people to see themselves in people most unlike themselves most beautiful I got was from a man in New York who was in a subway train and he said that he saw people on the train that were like my characters and he recognized himself and to me that's the real power of literature. If you can see yourself in the person lost like yours. They say if you take a really great plane and turn it upside down it still has power and it
still has impact. Just because of the order since we see that in these these vignettes I mean and that was part of that was your intention as you say to be able to pick it up anywhere in the book. And does that come from your poetry background from from constructing paintings like that. Yeah it comes from poetry comes from my love of poetry and of the power of a small little bit of writing to you know just make your heart sing. I try to do that. I mean yeah I think it's I think it's accomplished in the book. Now all these many years later when you pick up the book and read it how do you feel when you know I'm going to be 50 this year and I wrote that in my 20s and the book is doing the work that I wanted to do which is to you know give direction to young people and give hope to young girls who are in destructive reading self-destructive lives. I see stories I wish I could have written better. I think we all feel that way as writers I look at them and I go That one's good that one has stood the
test of time. This one a little bit differently now. But I don't have an intention to rewrite it. You know a lot of the stories I've reworked in my new novel. So they're kind of bookends to each other so check that out if you want to see them yeah if you'd like to see what happened next because people do write to me and say what happened next. So I read. So you may want to turn me down on this but we sometime thereafter offer to read a bit would you mind reading. One of the things you would miss about for skinny trees. Yeah. You know I used to have a bedroom that was right above the door when I lived in the House that this is based on and I don't have any privacy I had a bedroom but I had a door that wouldn't close because we had a big dresser that we bought at the Sears basement and it was longer than the space on the wall so the door could only close to the dresser. And and late at night I would just sit out by the screen in that window and look at the trees. And I wrote this remembering that time when I felt so lonely that the only person who understood me was a tree for skinny tree.
The only ones who understand me I am the only one who understands them. Skinny tree with skinny necks and pointy elbows like mine for who do not belong here but are here for excuses planted by the city from our room. We can hear them but just doesn't appreciate these things. Their strength is secret. They send for Roche beneath the ground. They grow up and they grow down and grab the earth between their hairy tells and the sky with violent teeth then ever quit their anger. This is how they let one forget his reason for being there. Like tulips and glass each with their arms around them. Yeah there are trees on ice.
Day one I am too. And to keep keeping one eye on one tiny thing against so many bricks then it is I look at trees when there is nothing left to look at on the street for who grew despite concrete to reach and do not forget to reach for a reason to be and be. Were skinny trees from the House on Mango Street Sanders's Nero's thanks so much for joining us today. Thank you. Well let's take a quick break we'll be back with our Arkansas readers to talk about the House on Mango Street so stay with us. We are back with our readers and we are back here at a different place now that bookstore at mount a bank place in Conway Arkansas I'd like to introduce you to the folks who we're going to discuss the House on Mango Street with first up. So read a prayer as it is a
junior just finished a junior at Parkview High School going to be a senior next year. Cecilia Garcia Garza is a housewife and volunteer for several organizations in central Arkansas and Wayne STINGEL Dr Wayne Stengel is a professor of English at the University of Central Arkansas here in Conway. And what you make you folks may not know this but this book was actually the book for the program of all Arkansans read the same book for the past year. So I'm just going to start by going around the horn and see if see if our readers here think this all Arkansans would be interested in this book to see if you will start with you. If on our councils would be interested in this book. I think so. As long as they start reading you know was you you might not be from you know without we this situation that's exposing on this book. It is a novel short novel but once you start reading the FARs the net than us the mission before you can start in whatever page and you immediately engage in with it we've been
very soft to that technique that he has and if these be very short and that you can pick up the book at any time and put it down and then when you come back like we start on the same page or just jump to another page. But he's very engaging very easy to read and in my case like very easy to relate with many of the situations that she's describing and you say you you might not be familiar with the situation but a lot of the feelings and some of the situations are universal to all people from all cultures right. That's right yes. What do you think about the book. I think Arkansans would find some identity with this book. Like the characters in here I can't identify with their situations because I was never in poverty I was never you know in a lot of the situations they were in and about the only thing we have in common on the surface is like maybe I race but I find identity with a lot of the things that they think about a lot of the things they look at and I like that
a lot of growing up is the same no matter where you are out of coming of age. What do you think. Well I think absolutely because I think one of the themes running throughout the book is clearly escape and escape an aspiration. And however much Cisneros Cisneros are her part our voice here recognizes herself as part of the House on Mango Street. She wants to be far from that world eventually go from that world. And yet in the final and the last vignettes of the story I think she realizes that wherever you come from you can completely cut your roots there and that she will bring that world to wherever she goes. Also again there's something about coming back to the street and freeing or liberating people who live there from that world. So what Arkansans would feel about that.
But I was very intrigued by what she said With you time in the interview. It is this is a book that I think was very cleverly and very kind of brilliantly marketed for our an audience that increasingly like most of us has less and less time. And you can go anywhere in this book and pick up any one of the. And yet although she called it a story cycle they are not related it is sequentially or even in any basic narrative form. It's just it's not really a per se a collection of short stories is that it is a form and a form and as she mentioned it goes back to storytelling traditions from hundreds of years ago. And we see that much in literature today way. Well she used the term Cisneros used the term story cycle and to my mind that registered stuff like things like Ernest Hemingway's in our time are more contemporaneously. John Bart's lost in the funhouse.
But yes and no I mean those are stories that that sort of river reverberate and Boomerang off each other. And I'm not sure that she wants that same effect so you know that's up for grabs which serene let me ask you Were you kind of wanting as you read through the book to to have it sort of form itself into a traditional narrative with the with a plotline that goes in a linear fashion and things get resolved in the end or. Or did you like it just the way it is. Actually I really like the way she wrote it. I really like the form it's like a large poem very smooth. It's really easy to read but without being really juvenile. And I'm really interested to read her other books because I'm sure she's grown as an author but I really like the way she writes. I really like her descriptions and take you there like in one part she talks about how as bronze is left there is like a pile of dishes breaking. And when she talks about what's in it for skinny trees she described the truth of having some sort of secret power. And I really like just the images it provokes my brain of these trees a tree think of as
defenseless you know we kind of down everything have this power that we don't know about. Yeah yeah. So I think you know you speak English and you speak Spanish as well I'm curious to know whether you read it in the English version or the Spanish version because it was there was creative Spanish and it is like what I just read is pretty good. And then basically because it's great the lady that was in charge of the translate the text is like a very talented writer. And she mentions that you know she has people helping her to get socked. Meaning that some of us try to give to any single. Whatever whatever I read in Spanish I really like it. Did she do a kind of hybrid English Spanish
Spanish Music Express. Did you feel though you were reading in English that there was not just because of her ethnicity but because of because of a consciousness. About an immigrant world all that she was writing close to a kind of Spanish sense of things. Funny that you mention it because this is something that I talk to somebody else about although she's her English is excellent and impeccable. You can tell that she does. Maybe her language is Spanish because of the way that she construct some sentences as she goes again and again very touching with the subject. And also because of the way does she brushes with many different issues that we deal with on a daily basis like the way that she brushes with that different
without being dedicated totally to to the death of somebody. I find that very interesting because we somehow we talk a lot about that. And it is something that you can see that is present on her on her writing. Let me ask you this. And I couldn't quite figure this out there seem to be a lot of references to the sky in the book. Poetic references to it eating the sky. Was that is that something from the Spanish language or the Spanish or the or the Latino culture that I'm not familiar with. Is this guy as a symbol for something else. Yeah we use this guy for many different situations like that. For example when you're out of really in love with somebody and you call these Somebody you see yellow which is said like you mean this guy to me. Well you know that can be something and then there are other situations where you say you're not going you're never going
to get as far as this guy. You know like in situations like these but it is it is very odd any times in the book and I'm really glad I could enlighten us on that. One more question. I think we'd all agree that she has a tremendous power of recall although she said this is not an autobiographical book. It seems to me like she's having a sense memory of a lot of things that happened to her when she was growing up she's really just amazing at it. Now I know you all would agree with that Wayne is that A is that something a writer can learn to be better at or is that sort of a trait is that something you're born with. Well I too was a little bit not put off but I was perplexed and interview when one of the first words out of her mouth was the first to clarify her distance from this autobiography and she won't bend over backwards to say it's not that. But I don't I didn't understand her answer to that.
I mean because. I think that memory is so potent far so many riders that they feel after a point that their memory is not only an individual thing but a collective and culturally conscious thing. And I think that's what she's doing here but I still think that this is a work that's infused with her own sense of self and Self. I could I didn't I was very interested in that and perplexed why she wanted to distance herself in that way. You're very very pointed about that but it wasn't about her. What do you think it was. It was more autobiographical than she let on. You know even though she says that she got it from so many people and it's all of these memories culminated into one book. It's also that it's from her perception of the whole thing so she writes Other people's memories about the way she imagines them
so I think she puts a lot of herself in this book of course. But like she says I believe that it was a lot of people's lives online. But also I want to add that on every single phone lies there is a lot of subconscious or unconscious situations that get filtered through you know like I did it to conscious level and that transpire away with whatever decision or or way that we behave and conduct ourselves through life and that they're good writers a good artist can tap into that. Yeah obviously that didn't work as she has done with the with the House on Mango Street a lot of joyous moments there and there are also juxtaposed against horrifying moments. She does a great job of putting together a mosaic of different stories and sort of making them fall in line and in a very artful way I think. Part of that that really didn't ring true with you. Did it seem like a natural
progression. One part of the story cycle to another. Yeah I think of it I think she did a really good job making everything like the events followed telling I think it made a lot of sense the way Spirit I think was really true to her and her nature. Our time is up unfortunately I feel like we've only scratched the surface but what a great book Cecilia Garcia Garza thanks for joining us here today. Thanks for being with us and Wayne STINGEL Thanks for your input as well the book is this one the House on Mango Street as it's noted on the book it's taught from everything from grade school craft classes at the university level. Might want to pick it up and find out why it's been so universally popular. Thanks for joining us today on the same page.
- On The Same Page
- Contributing Organization
- Arkansas Educational TV Network (Conway, Arkansas)
- AAPB ID
- NOLA Code
- OTSP 000202 [SDBA]
- Series Description
- On the Same Page is a talk show featuring interviews with authors and literary experts along with in-depth panel discussions with people about books and literature.
- OTSP host Tommy Sanders had the opportunity to speak with Cisneros at Rivermarket Books and Gifts in the Central Arkansas Library System's Cox Creative Center in Little Rock. "Don't presume The House on Mango Street is an autobiography," Cisneros said in the interview. "I think a lot of time people feel that it's so true that it happened to me. "The way I write is I take things that happened to other people, and, in the case of that book, it was my students. I cut and paste from memory - from my mother's stories, from my memory " and I make a composite. Some of the stories are mine, but I have to say the emotions, they're all mine." The House on Mango Street tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, a young girl growing up in a Latino neighborhood in Chicago, in 44 vignettes that are intertwined but may be read in any order.
- Broadcast Date
- Talk Show
- Media type
- Moving Image
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Arkansas Educational TV Network (AETN)
Identifier: D30-882/1 (Arkansas Ed. TV)
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- Chicago: “On The Same Page; Sandra Cisneros: House On Mango Street,” 2004-06-24, Arkansas Educational TV Network, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 30, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-111-74cnpfkb.
- MLA: “On The Same Page; Sandra Cisneros: House On Mango Street.” 2004-06-24. Arkansas Educational TV Network, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 30, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-111-74cnpfkb>.
- APA: On The Same Page; Sandra Cisneros: House On Mango Street. Boston, MA: Arkansas Educational TV Network, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-111-74cnpfkb