Sandra Cisneros on reading books to become a better writer

woman without shameis Sandra Cisneros’ first book of poetry in 28 years. It may be because the bestselling author has been busy publishing novels, short story collections, and essays. She has won prestigious awards and created foundations to nurture young writers. And the Chicago native moved to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, the country of her ancestors.

BOOKS: What did you bring to read during your reading tour this fall?

CISNEROS: Gradually I buy books. In fact, I’m sending back a box because I have too much to carry. I bought the Natalie Diaz collection”Postcolonial love poemwhich I’m reading right now. I love his work. I bought Ann Patchett’s collection of essays”those precious days” and Thich Nhat Hanh “How to Live When a Loved One Dies.” Then today I bought”Report of the second part», the memoirs of Gwendolyn Brooks. I have a copy but I buy extras when I see them. She is one of my literary godmothers. I have friends who are my literary godchildren. I like extra copies in case they don’t have any.

BOOKS: Are his memoirs hard to find?

CISNEROS: My favorite work of her, “Maud Marthais hard to find. It’s a little novel made of vignettes, which I would have liked to have known about when I was writing my first book, “The Mango Street House.” I didn’t know you could write a novel like that.

BOOKS: At what age did you discover Brooks?

CISNEROS: I think I discovered it in high school in anthologies. You could buy books in high school at a paperback club. I bought a lot of books from her and discovered that she wrote about Chicago.

BOOKS: Which authors have really captured your hometown?

CISNEROS:I love Theodore Dreiser”Sister Carrie.” Isn’t it a delicious book? Everything Carl Sandburg. I love Terkel studs. He is a literary godfather for me. I like to think of them all as my Chicago literary ancestors. They are the ones who inspired me to do what I do.

BOOKS: How would you describe yourself as a reader?

CISNEROS: I don’t read just any book. I have to read a book that has the potential to make me a better writer. I don’t have much time anymore. I am 67 years old. I can’t waste my time with fools.

BOOKS: What kind of reader were you as a child?

CISNEROS: If you had asked me that at 11, I would have said books about the good old days. What I meant were books that were written in another century or books in translation that had a magical sound, which I now realize was probably a bad translation. I liked books written in British English, like “Alice in Wonderlandor translations of Hans Christian Andersen’s work, which sounds odd. I loved the books that transported me from my dull daily life in Chicago to a time of dream. But then I started talking like people used to, using words like that. Who uses this?

BOOKS: Did moving to San Miguel change your reading in any way?

CISNEROS: It made me want to read books in Spanish even if I have to have the English version right next to it. And wow, that’s amazing. When you read the original, that’s the difference between real Mexican hot chocolate and Nestlé’s Quik. I read Mexican novels, like that of Fernanda Melchor “hurricane season“and that of Elena Garro”Memories of things to come,” in this way.

BOOKS: Is there a book that you give a lot as a gift?

CISNEROS: I give that of Thich Nhat Hanh »To be in peacea book that changed my life. A friend gave it to me. I wondered why she did it because it looked like a religious book. I put it on the shelf. Later, when I had to give a talk for International Women’s Day, I was looking for inspiration and pulled out this book. It taught me a different way to be an activist and to do it in a non-violent way.

BOOKS: Another book you procrastinated reading?

CISNEROS: I think books are like prescriptions for our ailments, and sometimes when people give us a book, we don’t have those ailments. It might not help us then. But later it will come at the right time.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Saving Penny Jane” and can be reached at

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