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NPR Arts & Life

Wisdom From YA Authors on Leaving Home: Sandra Cisneros

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Throughout August, we're bringing you stories and advice from authors who have written for young people about that pivotal moment when they leave home and set out on their own. It's a series we call Next Chapter. Today, we hear from Sandra Cisneros. She's the author of "The House On Mango Street" and "Carmelo." She came of age in Chicago in the early 1970s.

SANDRA CISNEROS: The person I was was a very protected child-girl with lots of curly disco hair, no bra. My mother was always kind of checking on me when I left the house. And I had a little T-shirt that said merci.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DISCO LADY")

JOHNNIE TAYLOR: (Singing) Shake it up, shake it down. Move it in, move it 'round disco lady.

CISNEROS: I was obliged to live at home as an undergraduate, unlike my brothers, because I was a girl. The struggle for a Mexican-American woman is one of you get married and that's the way you leave home or you get kicked out of home because you've done some sort of sexual transgression - you know, you've had a baby or you come out and say you're gay. But I used the winch of poetry. I said that I needed a place of my own to write, which was true. But I also wanted to have freedom to lead my life and to fall in love and to do things I couldn't do under my father's roof.

(SOUNDBITE OF MFSB SONG, "THE SOUND OF PHILADELPHIA")

CISNEROS: The hardest part was I didn't like living alone (laughter). I was afraid at night. There were sounds in the walls and sometimes a bug. And I doubted every day, did I really want to live like this? Is this how writers live? Here I was, cold in a flat that was cold with a heater only in the kitchen and writing by a small, clamp-on architect's lamp. And I would just tape things by other women artists like Mary Cassatt - I can live alone and I love to work. And I - that was my mantra for those years. I would just say, yeah, I can live alone and and I love to work. And then I would cry.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLDEN YEARS")

DAVID BOWIE: (Singing) Golden years, gold whop whop whop (ph).

CISNEROS: I always tell the young men and women you have to control one, your money. If your money's coming from a source other than from your own earnings then that other person's going to tell you how to lead your life. So you have to control your own money so that you can control your destino, your own destiny. And for women - and men - control your fertility because that can throw you off your track from your brilliant career.

Now I add a third one, now that I'm 61, and that is learn how to be alone. It's OK to be by yourself. You do not have to be a unit. You do not have to be a father or a mother. And sometimes it's impossible to be that as an artist 'cause you can hardly make enough money to take care of you. We become artists because we're lonely. Then we have to be alone to create the art. And then finally, at my stage of my life, I like being alone and prefer my own company.

(SOUNDBITE OF WALTER MURPHY SONG, "A FIFTH OF BEETHOVEN")

MARTIN: That's novelist Sandra Cisneros. We've been hearing the music that was playing on the radio when she left home - Johnnie Taylor, MFSB, David Bowie and Walter Murphy. Sandra Cisneros is part of our series Next Chapter.

(SOUNDBITE OF WALTER MURPHY SONG, "A FIFTH OF BEETHOVEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.