I was listening to a recording of a discussion with Sandra Cisneros and John Phillip Santos today, and Sandra Cisneros was asked what insired her to write The House on Mango Street. She gave an amazing response that I will attempt to paraphrase.
It all started when she was attending the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. She went for peotry and claimed she had no idea how famous or prestigious the school was. A teacher just urged her to apply, and she got in, so she went.
Once she was there, she began to feel out of place because she wasn’t as privileged as the other people in the workshops with her. She began to feel ashamed as they discussed houses and she realized that everyone had vacation homes in Europe, etc. and didn’t know the kind of one room flat that she was reminded of when she thought of houses that she would want to write about.
She locked herself in her room for days, until the shame turned into an anger that she channeled into her writing. She wanted to get back at the “barracudas” in her workshop that told her everything she wrote was wrong.
Then she decided to write something that no one could tell her was wrong. She wrote about the houses she remembered. The houses only she could describe. And she blended her poetry and prose, creating a niche where she couldn’t find one before. And out of this writing that she did for herself, not for the workshop, The House on Mango Street was born.
I thought that was an awesome way of looking at a workshop, or at writing in general, as a chance to write something that no one can tell you is wrong, because it is so uniquely yours. Your point of view, your words.
In workshops there is so much emphasis on your point of view, voice, perspective, whatever. This thing that is so yours, no one can tell you it’s wrong. Sandra Cisnero’s view really helped me to look at this in a new way by making something so abstract into something visceral and tangible.
From now on I’m only going to write what no one can tell me is wrong. Thanks Sandra.