Sandra Cisneros talks about the poetry book ‘Woman Without Shame’, aging and sex

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LOS ANGELES — Draped in her signature shawl, Sandra Cisneros stood before an audience of about 100 at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural bookstore in Sylmar, Calif., after reading a poem about her many lovers and their physical attributes , and proclaims: “I “I am not ashamed of the lovers I have had in my life. I wish I had more. Anyone interested?”

Fans of the ‘House on Mango Street’ author – who filled Tia Chucha to the brim as others crowded outside near a window to catch a glimpse of the poet – burst into laughter and applause throughout the night as she joked, flirted and opened her heart.

Cisneros is currently on the reading tour for her new collection of poems “Woman Without Shame” (Knopf, 176 pp., available now), and as the esteemed Mexican American author writes in the opening poem: it’s a mujer sin vergüenza, not a sinverguenza. Know the difference.

Cisneros tells USA TODAY that she “grew up wanting to be a woman without shame,” and although for her, shedding is a “lifelong process,” she’s not afraid to say anything, put a pen to paper and owning what she wants from life at 67.

This fearlessness is on display in her new poetry, where she ruminates on memory, desire, aging, self-love, and her life in Mexico with evocative imagery. Cisneros, who never married or had children, details in her poems the liberating solitude that accompanies breaking away from these notions of femininity.

It's been 28 years since Sandra Cisneros published a book of poetry.

It’s been 28 years since Cisneros’ last collection of poetry, and “Woman Without Shame” is his way of “kind of losing (layers) within myself talking about what I was ashamed of.”

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Cisneros is not ashamed or afraid to speak her mind, even if it means disappointing her fellow Latino writers in the process. A day before her Thursday reading, The New Yorker posted a profile on Cisneros in which she spoke out in favor of her decision to defend and feature Jeanine Cummins’ controversial migrant novel “American Dirt” in 2020.

At the time, the book was condemned for perpetuating harmful stereotypes about Mexico and failing to carefully address the struggles of real migrants at the border. Cisneros told The New Yorker that the review “made me really sad, because I’ve seen my people act worse than the Trumpers with each other and with other writers.”

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Last September, Cisneros released “Martita, I Remember You,” his first work of fiction in nearly a decade. Earlier this month, she was named one of 11 recipients of the Poetry Foundation’s 2022 Ruth Lily Poetry Prize, one of the most prestigious awards given to American poets.

Sitting at a small table in a reading room at Tia Chucha, Cisneros happily signed dozens of books before her reading while passing on gem after gem of wisdom about aging, sex, and life.

Sandra Cisneros On Women Who Feel “Powerful” At Any Stage Of Life

As women’s rights continue to be threatened – in June the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade–Cisneros wants women to “take control of their bodies, especially their reproductive rights.”

She also wants women to celebrate and honor their bodies, especially as they age.

“I want women not to be ashamed of their bodies. I want them not to be ashamed of aging,” Cisnero said. “I really want women to be empowered, because I’m empowered in my 60s.”

As women age, Cisneros believes they shed much of the opinions projected onto them throughout their lives. “I want them to feel like they’re just getting started when they’re 60, not that they’re old. I want them to really feel like they’re in their prime. “, she adds. “I want women to feel complete, strong and powerful.”

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Sandra Cisneros on women owning their sexual desires at any age

In “Woman Without Shame”, Cisneros writes without flinching about her sexual desires. In “Making Love After Celibacy”, Cisneros writes “I bled a little, like the first time… A female body, again ashamed of itself. Not the modesty of a girl.”

“The fact that our society doesn’t think we have sex before or after a certain age is nonsense. I’m still a sexual being,” Cisnero said. Even with “no one in my life,” she said, “that doesn’t mean I’m single.”

“You know, you can have sex with yourself,” she added. “It’s the best kind.”

Cisneros is also not shy about talking about what and who she is attracted to simply because of her age. “To me, a man reading a book is sexy. The sexiest thing a man can do is read a book in front of me,” she said.

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Sandra Cisneros tells USA TODAY that she "grew up wanting to be a woman without shame," and while for her this moult is a "lifelong process," she is fearless to speak her mind, put pen to paper and own what she wants from life at 67.

Sandra Cisneros on the “worst mistakes” in love

For Cisneros, love comes in different forms. “Love…can come in the form of a pirul or a gardenia. Love is all around you,” Cisneros said while reading. He does not always come in the form of a person.

“(When I was younger) I was definitely looking for my media naranja (better half)…to get married and maybe have kids later, you know? And then I would say no, I’m not going to have kids,” Cisneros said. “Or maybe I’ll be a single mom. That kind of thing you think is romantic when you’re young and then you go to school for trancazos (school for hard knocks).”

For Cisneros, it was making the “worst mistakes” and choosing “the worst boyfriends, the worst”. But for her, what matters is how you move past the pain: “How do you pick yourself up and survive those mistakes? That’s what makes you strong.”

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On what success as a writer means to Sandra Cisneros

Cisneros was first published in 1980 with her little poetry book “Bad Boys”. Four years later, she published her first work of fiction, “The House on Mango Street”, the novel that would define her as a key figure in Chicano literature.

“Every day I laugh and the best part is I’m laughing all alone on the street thinking, ‘Man, I’m paying for this house with my pen,'” she said, then giggled. “Every time I sign a book like I do now, me da una risita inside (I laugh a little inside), because I can’t believe I wrote this book and look, I’m signing it! It’s like the icing on a cupcake.”

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Writing for Cisneros, now, is not about fame or money, but rather how her work transforms her and how she serves others.

“How does my work change and improve my life and in turn educate and transform the lives of others? For me, that’s success,” she said.

“Whatever demon is haunting us, if I know my book was helpful and changed people’s lives for the better, I know it did its job.”

Background:Jeanine Cummins’ book on migrants, “American Dirt”, is problematic; author’s note makes it worse

Opinion:‘American Dirt’ misrepresents the true immigrant experience


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