Big Read Hudson Valley Kicks Off at Bard College

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By Miranda Reale

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON – The Big Read Hudson Valley kicked off the first event in a series of events and learning opportunities available throughout the month of April throughout the Hudson Valley. Last Wednesday, Mexican-American author Sandra Cisneros was at Bard College’s Fisher Center to read from her 1984 novel “The House on Mango Street.” In conversation with co-founder and managing editor of La Voz magazine, Mariel Fiori and Bard College’s professor of Humanities and Director of the Written Arts program, Dinaw Mengestu.

Recognized by critics, professors, and readers alike as one of the most important contributions to modern literature, “The House on Mango Street” is a crucial story collection that illustrates a triumphant coming-of-age story. Told through vignettes that describe impediments of poverty, gender, and understanding her Chicana-American heritage, a young Esperanza Cordero is able to find her own voice and overcome challenges by realizing her inner potential.

From April 6-30, 2022, NEA Big Read events will fill the month with events that aim to bring communities together and inspire conversations about the importance of the themes found in the books chosen this year. In collaboration with Bard College, the Master of Arts in Teaching Program, and La Voz magazine, weekly workshops and a rotating series of specially curated readings will make this April exciting for literary lovers.

 Sandra Cisneros reads from her acclaimed 1984 novel “The House on Mango Street” at Bard College’s Fisher Center last Wednesday night.
Sandra Cisneros reads from her acclaimed 1984 novel “The House on Mango Street” at Bard College’s Fisher Center last Wednesday night.

Being National Poetry Month, April was already an important month for educators, artists, and readers alike, but with a recent series of national book banning, Big Read Hudson Valley comes at a vital time. While “The House on Mango Street,” has been allotted several prestigious awards including the American Book Award and has been translated into 25 different languages since its publication, the book’s success did not protect Cisneros from controversy. The novel has been banned from several school curriculums and was listed on Banned Book Week’s list of frequently challenged young adult fiction for 2014-2015 due to depictions of domestic and sexual violence. But this has hardly impeded Cisneros, whose intentions for writing are found in the spirit of others. “I wrote [The House on Mango Street] on behalf of people I loved, I wrote it for other people. It taught me that whatever you create on behalf of who you love, it will always turn out well,” she said.

Over the course of the evening, Cisneros answered questions about the immigrant experience, opened up about her process of writing, and the obstacles faced during the time of writing “The House on Mango Street”, while translating from English to Spanish and vice versa. Starting the process of writing the novel at just 22 years old, Cisneros described the feeling of self doubt and the act of comparing herself while attempting to create, not just for her, but for others. Seeing now, all of the misdirections and mistakes made over the years has brought her to where she is a successful 67 year old novelist, poet, and upcoming librettist, still motivated to learn, to push herself, and to continue to create for others. Believing that now is the time to create more than ever, Cisneros said that “It is time for the artist. What a time in history we are living in where the whole planet has a broken heart– So, this is the time to create.”

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