Texas Book Festival celebrates Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros reading at Central Presbyterian Church during Texas Book Festival. Photo by Nancy Flores
Sandra Cisneros reading at Central Presbyterian Church during Texas Book Festival. Photo by Nancy Flores

Author Sandra Cisneros took a look at the raised pulpit at Central Presbyterian Church during the Texas Book Festival on Saturday and asked the packed audience in the pews, “Should I read from up there?”

Cheers from the crowd erupted.

“As a woman, it’s empowering to be in the pulpit,” said the author of the highly acclaimed book, “The House on Mango Street,” who grew up Catholic.

Cisneros read a personal essay from a time after she moved away from Austin, when she was trying to pick up the pieces after she spent a difficult 1987 in the city.

“Everytime I’m in Austin, I feel so much sadness,” she says. It brings back memories of unemployment and looking to find her place in the world, she says.

Cisneros isn’t searching anymore. In fact, at 60 years old, she’s more sure of herself than ever. She’s living in Mexico now, a place that’s become her sanctuary and where she says “ideas are popping out of my head like popcorn.”

She doesn’t like to call her latest collection of autobiographical essays, “A House of My Own: Stories from My Life,” a memoir because she says that feels like someone who is the end of their life. “I still feel young,” she says.

Over the years, Cisneros says that many of her essays have been lost. Some of her work disappeared after many moves, and some of it burned. Making sure she had a book that housed the remaining essays was important to her. Preserving her work is not something she has to worry about anymore. Last month, Cisneros’ literary archive was acquired by the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University for $800,000.

Cisneros’ work is often taught in Chicana feminist classes, and the author recalled that when “The House on Mango Street” was published that she was bullied by some male, Chicano authors. “They thought I wasn’t raising the fist,” she says.

Cisneros also talked up the importance of perseverance. She says she started writing “The House on Mango Street” when she was 22, and finished it at 28. “When you feel like quitting is when you should hang in there.”

Lessons from Latina Trailblazer Pat Mora at Texas Book Fest

Author Pat Mora Photo by Nancy Flores
Author Pat Mora
Photo by Nancy Flores

Prolific author and El Paso native Pat Mora received the 2015 Texas Writer’s Award on Saturday, which came with a pair of custom-made cowboy boots. As founder of the program, “Día de los Libros/Día de los Niños” she also helps promotes children’s literacy across the country. Mora’s extensive literary work, which includes everything from bilingual picture books to poetry for adults, has made her an influential literary figure.

Here are four lessons from the Latina trailblazer from her conversation with Lois Kim, executive director of the Texas Book Festival at the State Capitol’s House Chamber.
Don’t Give Up: Mora says she receives many rejections, but her tenacity keeps propelling her forward. “I’m stubborn,” she says. “I said that early on. If all it takes (to make it, get published) is stubbornness, then I have a chance.”
Children Need Diverse Role Models: When Mora was in the 8th grade, she asked her parents for a typewriter to write poems. She says she never considered writing as a profession because, “I’d never seen a writer who was like me.”

Bilingualism Should be Valued: “There needs to be a climate where (bilingualism) is an asset,” Mora says. “Humans have odd ways in which we make ourselves feel superior. Our little egos are always hungry to be fed.”

Literary World Needs Diversity, Too: “Being a writer is a hard,” Mora says. Now being a writer of Mexican, Native American, Asian or Middle Eastern descent, she says, brings additional challenges “because that’s not who the editors are and that’s not who the reviewers are.”

Luis Alberto Urrea discusses “The Water Museum” at Texas Book Festival

Luis Alberto Urrea discusses latest book at Texas Book Festival with Antonio Ruiz-Camacho. Photo by Nancy Flores
Luis Alberto Urrea discusses latest book at Texas Book Festival with Antonio Ruiz-Camacho. Photo by Nancy Flores

Pulitzer Prize finalist Luis Alberto Urrea discussed his latest collection of short stories, “The Water Museum,” at a Texas Book Festival panel at Central Presbyterian Church on Saturday.

Urrea, who is also the author of “The Devil’s Highway” and “The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” was joined by moderator and Austin-based author Antonio Ruiz-Camacho who wrote “Barefoot Dogs” earlier this year.

Urrea says that in his principal story “The Water Museum,” he pays homage to a Ray Bradbury style of science fiction writing. Set in the future, the story follows children in the Texas Panhandle who have never seen rain before. “It’s about all these things that we love and take for granted,” he says.

In the story “Amapola,” he turned to the genre that he enjoys reading the most for pleasure — mystery. In 2010, the mystery short story won the Edgar Award, and Urrea says that at the awards ceremony he was “losing my mind because I was going to meet all of my heroes.”

The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea
The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea

Urrea, who was born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother, says the book highlights both sides of his identity.

Growing up, Urrea says he often felt like the kitchen in his home was like being in New York City, while in his living room, “Éramos Mexicanos (We were Mexican), and listened to Pedro Infante and watched bullfights,” he says.

His father worried about him becoming too Americanized. He describes his mother as a proper lady who wore gloves and affectionately called him, “Dear Boy” while living in the barrio in Tijuana. “But mom won because she had books,” Urrea says.

He remembers her reading Charles Dickens to him and feeling transported to another world. “It was really beautiful,” he says. “Then, she busted out Mark Twain, and that was the magic.”

As Urrea moved farther from the border, he discovered how many people had negative views about Mexicans. “I was shocked to learn that (some people thought) that the people who I loved most in the world were trash.”

Writing and telling the stories of the Latino community became important to him. “I’m in love with Mexico and the United States equally,” he says.

Austin film series pays tribute to Gabriel García Márquez

Colombia's Nobel Literature Prize laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 2010. (AP Photo/Miguel Tovar)
Colombia’s Nobel Literature Prize laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 2010. (AP Photo/Miguel Tovar)

Just as the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center prepares to open the archive of Gabriel García Márquez on Oct. 21 and then celebrate with a symposium in his honor on Oct. 28-30, the Austin Film Society presents its own tribute to the literary giant.

The film series “Beyond Macondo: Gabriel García Márquez and Contemporary Colombian Cinema,” includes several screenings at The Marchesa through Oct. 29 that pay homage to the influence Márquez has had on Colombian cinema. Some of the directors will be in attendance.

“Colombia is the new kid on the block in Latin American cinema,” the Austin Film Society explained on its website. “As the country dramatically increased the scope and quality of film production in recent years, a new generation of Colombian filmmakers exploded onto the world’s stage, with a wide-ranging aesthetic and political sensibility befitting the cultural, social and geographical diversity of this vibrant and complex South American nation.”

Here are trailers for the “Beyond Macondo” movies, which are all in Spanish with English subtitles. General admission tickets are $10. Click here for more information.

  • Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. – “Mateo”
  • Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. – “Los Hongos” with director Oscar Ruiz Navia present.
  • Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m. – “The Wind Journeys” with director Ciro Guerra in attendance.

Resistencia Bookstore to present top Latino authors at poetry reading

Resistencia Bookstore, now located on East Cesar Chavez Street, will host a poetry reading on May 30. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Resistencia Bookstore, now located on East Cesar Chavez Street, will host a poetry reading on May 30.


In my latest Cultura en Austin column, which highlights upcoming Latino cultural art happenings, I highlighted several must-see events including an evening that will bring together six top Latino authors at Resistencia Bookstore at 5 p.m. on May 30.

Featured guests include San Antonio Poet Laureate Laurie Ann Guerrero, who is the author of “A Tongue in the Mouth of Dying” and “A Crown for Gumecindo.” Austin-based author Ire’ne Lara Silva, who won the 2014 Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Prize, was also featured in Austin360’s Austin Gente video/story series, which explores Latino identity.

Silva grew up in a family of migrant farm worker truck drivers who followed the harvest season throughout New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas hauling onions, sugar cane and rice. The award-winning poet last year released her latest book of short stories, “Flesh to Bone.”

Other featured authors include poet Tim Z. Hernandez, who wrote “Mañana Means Heaven,” Letras Latinas Poets Initiative inaugural member Lauren Espinoza, D.C.-based poet, editor and literary historian Dan Vera, and Emmy Pérez, author of “Solstice.”




“The Train to Crystal City” looks at Texas WWII internment camp

Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell

My grandparents lived in the small Texas town of Crystal City for many years before they passed away. On visits there, I remember taking photos at the Popeye statue claiming the town’s fame as the Spinach Capital of the World and attending the Spinach Festival.

Crystal City’s rich history ranges from helping spark the Chicano rights movement in the 1960s to housing the nation’s only family internment camp. In Austin author Jan Jarboe Russell’s latest book, “The Train to Crystal City,” she takes a look at the “dramatic and never-before-told story of a secret FDR-approved Japanese American internment camp during World War II where thousands of families-many US citizens-were incarcerated.”

Jarboe Russell will present a reading and discussion of “The Train to Crystal City” from 6:30-8 p.m. April 23 at the Asian American Resource Center in Austin. American-Statesman contributor Maurice Chammah recently reviewed the book. Here’s an excerpt:

Russell captures individual heartbreak, the drama of fathers ripped away, the indignity of being treated as an enemy, and the desperation of mothers to reunite even under atrocious conditions. The morality is never as clear-cut as we might want; we feel torn for the daughter of a German immigrant, while also knowing that her Nazi-sympathizing father freely referred to President Roosevelt as “Rosenfeld.”

Check out the complete review here.