A Taste of Caramelo

It'll be a short trip down I-10 for Sandra Cisneros when she comes to town to read from her new novel. The Latina poet and writer lives just a few hours away in San Antonio.

With its convoluted mix of Mexican, Texan and American cultures, San Antonio is the perfect base for Cisneros. The MacArthur "genius grant" winner grew up shuttling between Mexico City and Chicago with her brothers, her Mexican immigrant father and her Chicano mother. The family never quite settled anywhere, and Cisneros's childhood left her feeling like an outsider in both countries.

It also gave her lots to write about, including the plot to her latest novel, Caramelo, a multigenerational epic following the Reyes family from Mexico to the U.S. and back again. Her longest book ever, Caramelo checks in at 439 pages and 150,000 copies for its first printing -- big numbers for what is essentially an ethnic novel.

Cisneros makes few appearances, preferring to spend her time writing books rather than talking about them, but she will tour for six weeks to promote Caramelo. With her stop in Houston, Cisneros will revisit the city that played a major role in her early success. It was the University of Houston's Arte Público Press that published her first novel, The House on Mango Street, in 1984. At that time, both Cisneros and Arte Público were new to the literary game and had only modest expectations for the book, but it was an instant hit with critics and readers. Random House bought up the reprint rights, and House, now considered a classic in feminist and Chicano literature, has topped $2 million in sales and been translated into ten languages.

You'll want to stick around for the interview and book signing after the reading. Cisneros, who claims writing is a political act and happily boasts that she is "nobody's mother and nobody's wife," is as engaging on stage as she is on paper.

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Olivia Flores Alvarez