Thursday, February 28, 2019

Sandra Cisneros and the Macondo Writers' Foundation by Juliana Aragon Fatula

"Macondo began in 1995 when author Sandra Cisneros gathered a group of writers, artists, scholars and activists around her dining table in her King William home to meet informally for rigorous writing workshops. As such we have very established traditions and expectations that include a formal application process aimed at professional writers of all genres, and the “Compassionate Code of Conduct,” a document drafted by a group of former Macondistas outlining the principles and ethics that govern our organization. We have over two hundred lifetime members, many of whom have been with us from the beginning. Macondo has grown and solidified itself as a space of intense artistic and cultural creativity where writers, artists, thinkers, scholars, and critics can come together and inspire and challenge one another in order to incite change in our respective communities." Reprinted from the Macondo Foundation website.

In July 2011, I travelled to San Antonio to attend my first Macondo Foundation Writers' Workshop with Sandra Cisneros and her Macondistas. Since it was my first year, I was called a Mocosa, but now that I've been accepted I can call myself a Macondista. I'm very proud to be part of this organization. Today I'd like to tell a story about how I met Sandra, applied to her foundation, travelled to San Antonio, Texas, and made a lasting impression on all who attended that year. 

I had just published my first book of poetry, Crazy Chicana in Catholic City by Ghost Road Press in Denver. Later a second edition was published by Conundrum Press.  I met Sandra Cisneros when I attended an All Pueblo Reads Benefit Ball at the Rawlings Library. She had been a role model for me since I read her classic, House on Mango Street, in college. I brought a copy of my book to the dinner and handed it to her when she came to our table. I was sitting in the cheap seats, way in the back of the room. Sandra greeted her guests and worked her way all the way back to our table. I made the decision to give her a gift of my poetry book. No expectations. Just a gift. 

She asked me to sign it and I gladly obliged. That evening she returned to her hotel room and read my book cover to cover. It only takes about an hour. The next day we attended a reading she did at the library and she saw me sitting in the front row. I was sitting with friends and my college professors from CSU Pueblo's English Department and Chicano Studies Department. 

She told the crowd about my gift, my book, and how it had moved her and inspired her to write poetry. The crowd and I were dumbfounded. My professors looked at me like I was on fire. Inside I was ablaze basking in her praise of my book and my poetry.  She told the crowd that they should read my book because it was remarkable. I don't remember her exact words but she spent a good five minutes at her reading praising my work. Then she asked if I had any copies with me to sell along with her at her book signing afterword. I happened to have a small box in my trunk. 

She asked the library to set me up next to her and I sold copies of my book and signed them along side my mentor and Chicana Icon. I felt spellbound with her magnetism. She carried herself like a queen but treated everyone like they were old friends. There was nothing haughty about her. She gave me an excellent example of how to conduct myself at a book signing. 

We took photos together and she signed my copies of her books and whispered to me. Your poetry makes me want to write poetry. She told me to  use that to promote my book. I was stunned. Then she told me about her foundation the Macondo Foundation and invited me to apply for membership. She warned me that it was tough to get accepted and not to get discouraged and keep trying the following year if I didn't get in the first time. 

So I did as she suggested. The second year I was invited to attend my first Macondo Writers' Workshop in Texas at the Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. I bravely held a yard sale and sold my belongings to strangers to earn enough money for traveling and meals. 

When I arrived at the dorms, I realized I needed a few things from the store for my room. I walked to the nearest Goodwill and bought what I needed. I don't recall if I told the cashier that this was my second time visiting San Antonio, or if I bragged about why I was visiting. It's all a blur. But someone in the store may have heard me and realized I was a tourist and easy prey. Tourists have money, right. 

I returned to my dorm room set my purse down next to my laptop computer and stepped inside the bathroom to wash my hands. I heard a tremendous crash outside my door and when I peeked out the door, I saw a shadow rush out my room, down the hall, and down the stairs. I had been robbed. My wallet, with ID, credit cards, cash had been snatched along with my laptop. 

For a moment I thought I was being punked by the Macondistas as a Mocosa. When I realized I'd been robbed we contacted the police and I gave a statement to a very good looking Latino man. I felt embarrassed at my stupidity of not locking my dorm door when I returned. I left my door open hoping the other writers would realize I was there and wanted to meet them. I met them and soon everyone in the hall was introducing me as the chick that just got robbed. Nothing like this had happened before. 

Sandra was notified and contacted me immediately to be sure I was unharmed. She asked if my manuscript had been stolen with my laptop. I had my manuscript on a thumb drive in my make up bag. It was not stolen. She asked the other writers to help me with paying for meals and to take me out to dinner. One writer donated cash to me to help. 

I met some generous, wonderful people from all over the country. Writers of every marginalized society. Writers of color, LGBTQ writers, men and women with a common goal. To help other marginalized writers like them. 

At the end of the week, I attended a celebration at a local nightclub. Sandra was the guest and MC. She came on stage dressed as Glenda the Good Witch from the Wizard of OZ. She had a crown, a ballgown, a wand, and entertained as only Sandra can. She never mentioned me or my robbery. 

The next day there was a scheduled reading for the Macondistas at the University. Sandra explained what had happened to me without pointing me out to the crowd and asked everyone to bid on her Glenda the Good Witch costume from the previous night to buy me a new laptop. I had no idea of any of her plans. I was shocked when they raised enough money in about ten minutes to replace my stolen laptop.


The generosity of Sandra and her Macondistas has always stayed with me. The next time I attended Macondo was 2015? This trip we stayed at a hotel and worked out of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. My second visit I met another set of Macondistas and felt equally accepted into the fold. 

This year I'm unable to attend but plan on saving money for next year's workshop in July. However, I have been given the honor of being on the reading committee to select the new entries into Macondo for the fiction genre. I'm looking forward to reading all of the submissions and evaluating them for being accepted into the foundation.  I've done this previously for poetry for the High Plains Book Awards Festival in Billings, MT. I feel honored and excited to be included in this process. I look forward to meeting some of the new Macondistas when I attend in the future. 

2 comments:

  1. Yep. Fellow Macondista here--since 2009. La Sandra is one of my favorite people in the world. Most people have no idea what an incredibly generous person she is.

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    1. I wanted to share my experience and spread the word about Macondo and the generosity I've been given by Sandra and other members. And congrats on your new poetry book, Linda.

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