Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Write! Write! Write!
This was the message inscribed by author Sandra Cisneros on a book for Natalia Treviño at a 2001 reading in San Antonio. Treviño was a fan, newly divorced with a 3-year-old son, with dreams of becoming a writer that were feeling more distant every day.
Cisneros addressed her dedication to Treviño “For a woman on her way,” displaying a faith and confidence in Treviño that she herself did not possess at the time.
Cisneros' advice “got me to put the seat of the pants in the seat of the chair” and write, Treviño said, quoting the advice of another noted and prolific author, Stephen King. Treviño is now an award-winning writer with a second book of poetry, titled VirginX, soon to be published.
Cisneros channeled that same inspirational bravada and commitment into her Macondo Writers Workshop, which began as a writers group in her kitchen in 1995 and continues today as a four-day, masters-level workshop run by its former students.
The workshop is named after the fictional town in which the Gabriel García Márquez novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is set.
Much as the town in the book is transformed by growth, both San Antonio and the workshop itself has changed, Cisneros said.
“I felt like we were so isolated,” Cisneros said of writers in San Antonio in the 1990s. “We were lost on the literary map.”
The workshop began as a mutual network of support for local writers, “but then it became magical and miracles happened. In many ways it predicted a transformation that I did not expect,” she said, with her own development as a popular and honored writer and the growth of the literary community here.
From July 24-27, 32 Macondistas – as Treviño calls workshop members – will meet at Texas A&M University-San Antonio to write and support each other in the mission of bringing underrepresented voices to the mainstream publishing world.
While Macondo classes are private, the workshop includes several free public events, including a workshop faculty reading Wednesday from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Central Library, an “open mic” featuring participating writers at Viva Tacoland Thursday from 8-10 p.m., and a fundraiser at the Texas A&M University-San Antonio auditorium on Friday from 7-9 p.m. featuring a reading by Cisneros.
With a suggested donation of $20, the Friday reading will raise funds to help support future Macondo workshops. For the first time ever in the United States, Cisneros said, she will turn a reading into a bilingual performance of her new book Puro Amor, due for an October release.
Joe Jimenez, whom Cisneros recalls seeing in the audience at a public Macondo event some years ago, would also go on to join the Macondo workshop, move on to graduate school, and publish his first book of poetry. Jimenez next workshopped his young adult novel Bloodline, called “beautiful in the hardest way” by one fellow author.
“So I’ve seen the growth of these writers from audience members to published authors,” Cisneros said, pointing out that though some come from all over the nation, “some come from just down the street. It’s really beautiful and amazing.”
The list of past and present Macondo workshop members is long and growing, featuring such familiar names as Joy Harjo, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Norma Cantú, Carmen Tafolla, Marisela Barrera, John Phillip Santos, and Gregg Barrios.
All are “no slouches,” Cisneros said, adding that among them are many award-winners, MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellows, and speakers at President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Most importantly, she said, they are published writers, and Macondo helped them get there.
“We have wonderful track record,” she said. “I like to think we’re the good housekeeping seal of approval for great writing.”
The workshop almost did not survive the transition to becoming a nonprofit entity when Cisneros moved from San Antonio to Mexico in 2013. After the workshop was held for a few years at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, its members put the event on hiatus to reorganize. It is now “back to our roots,” as Cisneros said, “run by the collective.”
The group must seek outside support to cover costs, with most expenses for classes and housing for writers paid for by the workshop, Treviño said, in keeping with the intent to make it as accessible as possible to writers with or without means.
Along with sponsors Texas A&M University-San Antonio and the San Antonio Public Library, one supporter is Tony Diaz, founder of community-oriented writing collective Nuestra Palabra in Houston.
Diaz said the workshop's greatest value is as a “big think tank,” where he can “write my butt off all day long, and hang out with these geniuses talking smack, and come up with great ideas and change the world.”
Cisneros agreed. “I think that sometimes people say art cannot make change, but I beg to differ,” she said, citing readers who have told her that they have seen themselves in her books, and that such representation made the difference in inspiring them to become more than what the dominant culture told them they could become.
With a focus on social justice and community activism, the workshop is designed to “tell our own stories for ourselves” Cisneros said.
Looking toward the hopeful future of Macondo for the next generation of writers, Treviño said it compares to a cenote, or wellspring, “that is going to nourish and feed those who are near it, but also take care of root systems below, as it throws its goodness into the world. That’s my image of Sandra, and of Macondo,” she said.
More information on Macondo 2018 Writers Workshop public events is available here, by clicking the “Public Events” tab.