Thursday, June 13, 2013

Natalia Treviño on the re-birth of Macondo at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center


Letras Latinas Blog:
First of all, thank you for agreeing to this modest interview. Before we get to the matter at hand—the Macondo Writers’ Workshop prospective re-birth—could you briefly share with the readers of Letras Latinas Blog what the Macondo Writers’ Workshop is, generally speaking. And more specifically, what it has meant to you?

Natalia Treviño:
Francisco, I’m thrilled to share the news we have about the developments about Macondo here in Letras Latinas Blog because I imagine that many of your readers and many Macondo members are already literary siblings, interested in letras, and the life-changing power that these letras have when used in a socially conscious way. It is with awe that I attempt to describe The Macondo Writers’ Workshop and what is has meant to me because it truly did generate a transformation in my life, not only as a writer, but as a person. Generally speaking, the Macondo Writers’ Workshop is a weeklong residency for writers who are socially engaged and committed to changing the world through creative and non-violent means. I can easily compare it to the pace and caliber of an MFA residency, but with special perks that just do not happen in MFA programs. So many members who have their MFA’s from all over the country, have told me the same thing year after year: “I learned more this week than I did in my entire MFA program.” Truly, they say this with a genuine look of astonishment in their new eyes. That look has become the recognizable look of Macondo membership, a look of warmth, disbelief, and relief all mixed into one soft expression.

At the Worshop, there is a very tailored structure. There are multiple workshops where writers are working on new material together, giving and getting necessary feedback. The workshops are taught by writers like Sandra Cisneros, the founder of Macondo, Luis Rodriguez, Ai, and many others. There is magic in these workshops because of the special way workshop is introduced and carried out, inspired by Sandra’s idea of an ideal homeland, a crucial space for a writer to learn about his or her own writing gifts and limits with a supportive, like-minded, and astute group. This is a place where writers are treated with compassion, but it is with a firm commitment to improving the words on the page as they appear, and for the thin-skinned, it can be a little difficult. It is a place where ego must be left at the door. Sandra has always insisted on that being the key to our mutual assistance of one another.

After workshops, there are seminars which take on all kinds of subjects ranging from how to address your spiritual life as a writer, how to address your health as a writer, to how to publish your first book of poetry, and so on. There are also readings and social elements, which are equally important to the week and allow members a time to learn more about the culture of the host city, San Antonio, and the culture of Macondo.  Macondistas are tired by the end of the week! But they are also extraordinarily energized by what they have experienced. I went as an invited auditor as Sandra’s guest after I won the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral award in 2004, and then I became a full member the next year. What has happened to me as a person and writer is that I went from being a teacher who occasionally wrote poetry and short stories, to a writer with a burning purpose and the ganas to get it down on the page before I die. My first book of poetry, Lavando La Dirty Laundry is due to come out this year, and I am in the final stages of completing my first novel, La Cruzada, which is something that would not have happened without the Macondo Workshop experience. I met agents and authors at Macondo who told me it needed more work, a better structure. I decided I needed to go ahead and get the year-round support I needed to complete this novel by enrolling in an MFA program focusing on fiction. Thankfully, the University of Nebraska at Omaha accepted me, and now the novel is in a first draft stage, with parts of it already published. But poems are coming again now as I have actually begun a second book of poetry. I am now a writer who teaches from a whole new perspective, and this is a shift that has been a long time coming. It is hard to name what Macondo and Sandra Cisneros mean to me personally because it would be like a healthy and emerging ear of corn saying how much it had been impacted by the sun. Yes, I have to bring a lot to the table, but my growth would have been slow and undernourished without Macondo.

Letras Latinas Blog:
The Macondo Writers’ Workshop is inextricably associated with Sandra Cisneros. Could you share what Sandra’s involvement with Macondo has been over the years, to the best of your knowledge? Will she have any role in Macondo’s next phase?

Natalia Treviño:
When Macondo was a literary partner to AWP a couple of years ago, I spent quite a bit of time volunteering at our table at the book fair, and after a few other questions about it, a writer said to me:  “Well, if I join, will Sandra be a part of it? I heard she’s getting out.” And this statement jolted me, not because I knew Sandra wanted to step down as head financial backer and administrative leader, but because there is no way to separate Sandra from Macondo. I said, “Sandra is as much a part of Macondo as the blood that is flowing through your body right now.” Macondo is Sandra’s living novel. She has written it, but it is open enough to evolve in the hands of responsible Macondistas who get her vision and want to carry it forward. Over the years, Sandra has managed and overseen every single aspect of Macondo. She has tirelessly lined up the major writers to come. She has approved of, thought of, and imagined all of the special events associated with Macondo, the seminar speakers, the Indigenous performers, the curandera, the after-parties, the final fundraiser, the goodbye breakfasts. She has come out in full costume to perform at readings, once as Luz, the Good Witch of the Southwest, with wand and crown, for an auction to help a writer who had her belongings stolen that year. Sandra has generously put herself in the place of the writer who needs support and then fulfills the wishes she would have for herself, and so that means all members are served, and served very well. She has described it as being the mother of the bride for a wedding that lasts eight days. It is an exhausting undertaking for her. Now she is taking time to regroup and write after spending so many years helping other writers, and yet, she is being briefed about every meeting we have, and she is making suggestions from afar. She is intimately aware of what is happening, and her input is very important to the decisions that will be made. She is frequently in direct contact with Bill Sanchez, the president of the Macondo board, and she is also in constant contact with many other Macondistas, her friends and loved ones. She wants this to succeed. Sandra will always be the face and heart of Macondo, but she needs to nourish her own writing and her own needs right now. Her vision has helped so many Macondistas in what they all say are immeasurable ways, and they in turn, want to keep that alive and provide it for future members.  

Letras Latinas Blog:
It appears that the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio will be the institutional home of Macondo (which is a nice twist since it’s my understanding that one of the reasons Sandra came to San Antonio so many years ago was to work at the Guadalupe!) Can you comment on how that relationship came about, and say a little something about Orlando Graves Bolaño and his role in Macondo’s transition to this institution?

Natalia Treviño:
It is true that destiny has come to play a role in this amazing cuento. In a letter to Macondistas recently, Orlando wrote, “We are also thrilled to discover the many ways this story has come full circle!  The Macondo archives have come to rest in the exact same place where Sandra had her first office at the Guadalupe when she  moved to San Antonio to take up her position as Director of the GCAC’s Literature Program.” That story sent chills through me. That exact little room, that space at the Guadalupe was sanctified and occupied by Sandra years ago! And now this institution she created is housed right there.

Sandra has always had a strong relationship with many cultural centers here in San Antonio, the Guadalupe, Gemini Ink, and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center to name a few. I would be hard pressed to think of a literary or cultural institution here in San Antonio that did not enjoy a visit or a symbiotic relationship with Sandra. Our universities work with her regularly, as recently as this spring during Poetry month. It is my understanding that the board made strong recommendations for the new home to be at the Guadalupe, and with Sandra’s final blessing, this happened. Patty Ortiz, Bill Sanchez, and Orlando have been working on this for months, and it is here! It is alive and happening! Orlando’s role has been to assist with this transition and carry out a full scale Macondo week in 2014. He is taking his personal time to familiarize himself with Macondo, and then he is taking his professional time for budget planning with his team, programming, and envisioning how the Guadalupe can synergize best with the Macondo vision. He is open to receiving the Macondo spirit and programming content from several local Macondistas who are meeting with him regularly to ensure that the pace, inclusions, and flavor of Macondo stay intact. He is so perfect for this role. He is a great listener, a visionary in his own right, and he understands the physical and metaphysical choreography of planning cultural events. Already his ideas have us excited, and his flexbility has made us feel at home with this transition.

Letras Latinas Blog:
My understanding is that this past May 25th, there was a meet and greet at Macondo board president Bill Sanchez’s home. Could you share with our readers what that meet and greet consisted of, and how it unfolded?

Natalia Treviño:
Absolutely. Bill Sanchez is dedicating himself to being a board member who not only dreams and theorizes, but takes action for Macondo. He values the ideas Macondo represents; as Sandra’s close friend and assistant for over fourteen years, he knows her extremely well, and he attends to so many aspects of the incredible mosaic that is her life, even in helping her plan her garden, her rockwork, her estate sales, and he listens to her early drafts of new writing projects. He has listened to her hopes, fears and dreams, and every year Macondo was in session, he and his partner in business, Roger Solis, took a week off just to volunteer at Macondo, to give rides, to help plan, to do anything that was necessary to make it happen and give writers what they needed so that they could focus on their work. All of his life, Bill has been a supporter of cultural arts events. This is something he made sure his children saw growing up, and he is still in awe of what Sandra has created in Macondo because he understands its incredible potential to change lives for those who cannot speak for themselves. He literally tears up when he talks about it, and while he runs his own business to this day, he is helping in minute tasks of all kinds to ignite this flame and keep it lit. After the paperwork was completed, and Macondo was officially housed in the Guadalupe, Bill made phone calls to the local members. He told us what had happened, and he asked that we meet with the members of the Guadalupe who will carry this flame forward into the future. He offered his own home for a “meet and greet,” so that the personal space that Macondo creates for writers was present from the beginning of these meetings. He wanted the people to meet the people, and he knew that this was the best way they could appreciate what Macondo is about. It is not a business. It is about the business of helping writers reach their potential through both craft, personal, emotional, and spiritual development.

Attendees were Macarena Hernandez, a long time Macondista, Maria Limón, who participated in the earliest days of Macondo and drove down all the way from Austin, Rachel Jennings, a wonderful Appalachian poet, Orlando Bolaños Graves, the new education director at the Guadalupe, Bill of course, and his business partner Roger Solis, who has always helped Sandra and Macondo with her events. It turned out that his father was on the original board for the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center years ago. The time we spent visiting each other over a very generous taco feast provided by Macarena and her friend Lila gave us the opportunity to envision what we wanted the summer Macondo to be, a short time where the members talk to the Guadalupe, and help plan the full fledged 2014 week, but members also said that the Macondistas who take the time to come also need time to talk to each other, to reacquaint themselves with one another and provide the support we have always given each other. We do not need to pack a busy schedule. We need a comfortable pace and space so that we can really hear what the members want, share what they are willing to do to make this happen and hear what the Guadalupe has to offer. Mention of all kinds of possibilities emerged. It was very exciting.

Letras Latinas Blog:
Finally, what’s the next? Mention was made on facebook of a possible Macondo weekend this July? What will take place? Is the plan to have a full fledged Macondo workshop next summer?

Natalia Treviño:
A full-fledged workshop next summer is what we are hoping for, Francisco, and we are doing a Macondo Summit this July. The dates in July are being decided as I write this, but the programming will consist of some of the very important elements that have always been a part of Macondo, a welcome dinner, possibly some time for peer group meetings, and finally, a collective capstone visioning session in which members will have a dialogue with the leadership at the Guadalupe about the future of Macondo. This dreaming and planning session has always been an important part of the Macondo week, and it is why Macondo has taken the shape that it has—the members’ experience and creativity come together to discuss improvements for the next time and voice their vision of what Macondo can become. Changes are always made based on these sessions. Administrative decisions are made such as choosing the selection panel for new Macondistas, and volunteers emerge to take jobs on such as community event, performance, and workshop planning. The Guadalupe understands that the mission of Macondo has always been to attend to the whole writer in a way that Sandra had always hoped she had been attended to on her journey when she was earning her MFA. It has also attended to serving the community in some way, offering workshops to those in detention centers, in underprivileged schools, or to shoe shiners from the community. Macondo is rich in its gifts. Sandra wanted to create an educational center where the mentees/students/participants and the teachers wanted to be—a home for writers to grow. 

*
Born in Mexico City and the mother of one, Natalia Treviño was raised in San Antonio, Texas and is an Associate Professor of English at Northwest Vista College as well as a member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop.  She is a graduate of UTSA’s graduate English program and The University of Nebraska’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. Natalia is the recipient of an Alfredo Moral de Cisneros Award, the Wendy Barker Creative Writing Award, and the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and most recently, the 2012 Literary Award from the San Antonio Arts Foundation, which is allowing her the much needed time to complete her first novel, La Cruzada. New essays, "The Naturalization" and “Crown Our Good” appear in the anthologies Shifting Balance Sheets: Women's Stories of Naturalization and Complex Allegiances, respectively . Her first book of poems, Lavando La Dirty Laundry, is forthcoming from Mongrel Empire Press. 


4 comments:

liz gonzalez said...

There is much to comment on in this interview, but I want to focus on one element: Bill Sanchez. I am so glad that Natalia has described all he does for Macondo and Sandra. He is our behind-the-scenes hands-on angel. I am as grateful to him as I am to Sandra. Many thanks to Bill for all the sombreros he wears!

liz gonzalez said...

Thank you Natalia for describing Macondo and all its bounty for writers. There is much to comment on, but I will focus on one element: Bill Sanchez. Thanks for summarizing all he does for us. He is our behind-the-scenes hands-on angel. I am as grateful to him for Macondo as I am to Sandra. Viva Sandra! Viva Bill!

Francisco Aragón said...

Ditto, Liz, on Bill's (and Roger's) crucial contributions to the Macondo mission.

emmanuel chimezie said...

GREAT ANALYSIS THERE NATALIA U REALLY DID A WONDERFUL JOB. THANKS FOR SUMMARIZING WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR US. VISIT WWW.UNN.EDU.NG FOR MORE