Nicholas Frank / Rivard Report
Portrait images of well-known San Antonio authors – Carmen Tafolla, John Philip Santos, and Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, among others – greet visitors to the Central Library’s Latino Collection, peering from the ends of bookshelves.
Each of these authors has played a developmental role in the Macondo Writers Workshop, which yearly attracts noted authors from around the country to San Antonio for a weeklong intensive that includes critique sessions, literary seminars, gatherings, and public readings.
“Macondo has been instrumental in creating this set of writers” representing a multitude of Chicano, Latino, and Native American voices, said novelist Helena Maria Viramontes after a Macondo faculty reading Wednesday.
The total number of writers with ties to the workshop – they refer to themselves as “Macondistas” – today numbers more than 300, according to Anel I. Flores, Macondo board member and ad hoc advisor. Many are published authors who have won recognition and awards, including Viramontes, fiction writer Joy Castro, memoirist Alex Espinoza, and MacArthur fellows Ruth Behar and Sandra Cisneros, the workshop’s founder.
Viramontes was invited to join the original workshop 24 years ago by Cisneros, who began by gathering like-minded fiction writers, poets, and activists in her King William home. After running the annual workshop through 2014, Cisneros invited past workshop members to take over.
Under the leadership of its new board, Macondo has found a level of stability and appreciation from its host city. Last year was the first time Texas A&M University-San Antonio housed the workshop, and the sponsoring institution has extended its hosting offer for three years, Flores said.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg also signed a proclamation July 16 officially designating July 23-28 as “Macondo Writers Workshop Week,” Flores said.
“We cannot take for granted that this is the way it always was,” Viramontes said. “Look at that packed house!” she exclaimed, referring to the audience of more than 100 packed into the small Latino Collection reading room for Wednesday’s reading.
“Sandra and myself, we were always so hungry, looking to each other to create community” that otherwise did not exist among Latina writers two decades ago, she said. Viramontes expressed amazement at the strength of Chicano and Latino arts culture in the city.
“That’s one thing about San Antonio, man – it sings, it really sings,” she said.
Sherwin Bitsui, an Albuquerque poet who will lead a workshop this year, is visiting San Antonio for the first time.
“It’s got such an imprint on the creative writing community,” Bitsui said of Macondo’s reputation. “There’s a notion that Macondo is a kind of open place, and that place is within community and within family and within story.”
Richard Blanco, best known as President Barack Obama’s second inaugural poet and a founding Macondo board member, spoke to the particular qualities of the Macondo workshop after his Tuesday night reading at the Central Library to promote his new book of poems, How to Love a Country.
“I think when you have a support system or a community that, for lack of a better word, gets you, gets it, and gets what you’re writing about, that really breeds deeper thinking about the work” and helps create better writing, he said.
Joining Macondo, Blanco said, was a way of “giving back” to Cisneros for her early support of his writing, and “giving back to other Latino writers in terms of support and community.” A shared sense of community, he said, lends “confidence that what you’re writing about matters.”
Flores took the podium after the faculty reading to appeal to Macondo members and fans to help support the workshop’s ongoing activism and its members’ volunteerism in their various communities.
“The authors … all come with professional experience, but also experience as social justice writers and activists,” she said, citing members’ writing on environmental issues and migration.
Flores also emphasized the growth of the workshop, with 19 new invitees for 2019. “When we say ‘Macondo’ now, we have a much bigger feeling of family,” she said.
The annual open-mic reading of Macondistas, a workshop tradition that is free and open to the public, will take place Friday at 8 p.m. at the TAMU-SA Auditorium. Readers are workshop participants bound to a strict three-minute limit, presenting new fiction, poetry, and memoir they’ve workshopped during the week.
The Rivard Report will present a “digital chapbook” of Macondo open-mic participants’ readings from 2018 beginning Saturday, Aug. 3, publishing one author per week.