BOOKS PREVIEW BOOKS
:— Tex-Mex tales
Sue Wilson talks to Sandra Cisneros, the brightest light among a new generation of Hispanic-American writers.
Latin American writing is generally assumed to mean South American - Garcia Marquez. Luis Borges. magic i realism — but in recent years. work by US-based. Latin-derived writers has been gaining a highly distinctive proﬁle of its own. Foremost among this new wave is San Antonio‘s Sandra Cisneros. whose new collection of stories Woman Hollering Creek looks set to build on the success of last year‘s novelistic . debut. The House on Mango Street.
Brought up in a Chicago barrio, ‘rat poor'. but by a mother who played opera records and took the kids to the free concerts in the park. Cisneros wrote from childhood. instinctively — ‘writing wasn‘t something I chose. it was something i was‘. At twenty-one she headed fora graduate writers’ workshop in Iowa. armed with the blithe assumption that ‘l had a right to be a writer. i had no idea it was supposed to be the privilege of another class‘. The culture shock she received from her middle—class fellow students was distressing for a while. but in her second year she thought. ‘Well. i can‘t write like my classmates. what can 1 write about that would be the opposite? And that differentiation was really vhere I found my voice; in that rebellion l stumbled upon that space which was mine.‘
The stories‘ precise. prismatic brilliance is fuelled by their mercurial polyphonic rhythms; earthin rooted in
sensory detail — ‘I put my nose to your eyelashes. The skin offthe eyelids as soft as the skin of the penis. the collarbone with its fluted wings. the purple knot of the nipple. the dark. blue-black colour of your sex. the thin legs and long feet'. Texan voices. Spanish voices. young girls. young men who promise to love ‘like a revolution. like a religion'. escaping battered wives. male dancers. mistresses.
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Sandra Cisneros: ‘I just assumed I had a right to be a writer.’
lovelom husbands — all the flesh-and- blood diversity of the Chicano community is here. in pain and joy. the ordinary and the extraordinary. As one of the first US-Latina writers to be taken up by a major publisher — Random House — and to reach an overseas audience. Cisneros didn‘t feel she could afford the luxury of speaking solely for herself.
'l wrote the book in all these different
voices because I was quite cognisant at the time I was writing of its place in history — perhaps it would be the ﬁrst and only book that someone in rural . . . Idaho. say. would pick up in their local bookstore to read about my community. I‘m wanting to set the record straight: it's a huge community I‘m talking about. so l tried to write everyone‘s story — of course that‘s impossible. but that‘s what I was trying to do. like a Noah's Ark of the Latino community. all those different ages and voices; I think it would be naive for tne not to feel that sense of obligation at this time in history.‘
‘I was trying to do, like a Noah’s Ark of the Latino community, all those different ages and voices; I think it would be naive for me not to feel that sense of obligation at this time in history.’
US-based Latino writing is still significantly disadvantaged. Cisneros says. by the widely-held mainstream view which sees it as being only of ‘sociological‘ importance. if any. ‘You still have that attitude of regarding our literature as "basement" literature -- it‘s placed in the basements of university buildings. under “ethnic studies".‘ (Striking parallels here with Scottish vis-a-vis English literature) in the US. however. Cisneros believes this oppressive perspective is being forcibly changed by the sheer quality and volume of Latino writing now emerging. ‘We have a whole new generation — I'm part of it we‘re all English majors. sometimes products of creative writing workshops, so a whole different kind of literature is coming out that can compete at an international level.‘
Woman Hollering (melt is published by Bloomslna'y a! [7. 9‘).
_ Classic half- century
Willa Muir’s novel imagined Corners launched Canongate Classics in 1987; the lust-published 50th title in the series is her husband Edwin’s autobiography. A happy coincidence, according to series editor Rory Watson, Reader at Stirling University’s Department of English Studies. Between the two books lie a diverse and stimulating range of fiction, poetry, biography, folklore and memoirs which is a credit to the ludgement oi Watson and his fellow editors, Tom Crawford and John Pick. Canongate receive substantial funding from the Scottish Arts Council for the series, in return for which they undertake to keep the titles in print. This is crucial, as in the past works such as lewis Crassic Cibbon’s Scots Duair or lleil Cunn’s Highland River
i have come and gone like snow in the spring, largely because their importance in a Scottish context was not recognised by English publishers.
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Canongate Classics: giving work authority lacking in the past.
Rory Watson sees the series as having three distinct functions. Firstly, to publish recognised Scottish classics in a uniform, quality, widely affordable paperback edition. With new critical introductions and with texts often corrected from manuscript and other sources, works by llogg, Stevenson and others are given an authority lacking in the past.
Secondly, the series seeks out forgotten classics - ‘lost gems’ as
Watson describes them. Foremost in
this category are works by women - notably Willa Muir, flan Shepherd, llaomi Mitchison, llancy Brysson Morrison and Catherine Carswell. Their inclusion provides a strong female presence; it also retrospectively changes the face of Scottish literature. Watson counts the flan Shepherd reprints as particularly important: her approach to themes of conflict and community distinctively prefigures Cibbon’s Mearns trilogy.
Thirdly, the series has generated titles itself, providing a format for books which, though perhaps not conventional ‘classics’, reflect the diversity of Scottish writing. Carl MacDougall’s short story anthology spanning two centuries, The Devil and the Ciro, the one-volume gathering of poetry by McCaig, Morgan and Lochhead, and in the latest batch a selection of Iain Crichton Smith’s short fiction, listen to the Voice, fall into this category.
obviously some books sell better than others, and, even with SAC support, Canongate publish on commercial as well as literary grounds. The likes of Stevenson’s Kidnapped and llogg’s Justified Sinner are usefully lucrative items on the list, as is the llighers set book Sunset
Song. The biggest seller so far has been Elizabeth Crant’s Memoirs of a Highland Lady, which has sold 20,000 copies. A future title of some literary significance but with lower sales expectations is a complete edition of James Thomson’s long poem City of Dreadful flight.
John Macdougall liay’s gothic morality tale Gillespie, has finally appeared in this format fourteen years after Canongate first reissued it, having rightly identified it as marking a turning point in Scottish fiction. For most readers the series will have provided some pleasant surprises along the way: through it I was first introduced to the writing of the ecologist John Muir, to John Duchan’s historical fiction, to llancy Brysson Morrison’s The Cowk Storm, and to the Scots linmill Stories of Robert Mclellan. Rory Watson seems to have no fear of exhausting the mine: ‘There are many titles which we see as natural for the series, which we can’t get hold of just now for copyright reasons. But in time perhaps some of these will come to us.’ (James Robertson)
The 50th Canongate Classic, Edwin Muir’s Autobiography, is published on 29 July £5.99.
56 The List 30 July—12 August 2993