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After Sandra Cisneros returned from a trip to Bosnia earlier this month, she was reeling. The memories of the trip to the war-ravaged country where she once lived the country where her dearest friend, Jasna Karaula, was for a time missing were wrenching.
Somehow seeing the dizzying effects of yearslong war and hate and genocide became physically embedded in her body. "There's a physical vertigo I'm experiencing from the trip and a spiritual vertigo," says the Mexican-American poet and writer most noted for her best-selling coming-of-age novel, "The House on Mango Street," published in 1984.
The writer will speak and read from her work at a Tanner Humanities Center lecture at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center on Tuesday.
The literal metaphor of vertigo seems an appropriate response to international news events, Cisneros believes. She continues to consider the long-term aftermath of the Bosnia war, which her friend and other experts believe served to exaggerate the miscommunication between Muslim and Christian cultures.
"There are communities that are in this state of not understanding each other," says Cisneros, the author of a recent essay collection, "A House of My Own: Stories of My Life." "We lost a key opportunity after 9/11 to work on that communication. There was the momentum of the whole world being empathetic and listening to the United States. Their hearts were hurting with us."
Cisneros' early work was drawn from her upbringing in Chicago, the only daughter among six brothers. She later explored family secrets of the women in her family, braiding together generations of stories into her gracefully epic novel, "Caramelo."
She lived for 25 years in San Antonio, Texas, where she collected her own spiritual family of artists. In 1997, her decision to paint her historic home a vivid violet earned national headlines after the color raised eyebrows at the city's design review board.
Several years ago, the 62-year-old writer says she felt called to sell her house and move to her maternal grandparents' neighborhood in Guanajuato, Mexico.
In her new-old country, she hears both sides of the immigration debate. She's heard Mexicans who call her native country "los Asustados Unidos," or the United States of Fear. "We are living in the age of susto, fear, on both sides, on all sides, on all borders, across the globe," she writes in "A House of Mine Own."
When asked about her dual identities as a Mexican-American, she answers that it's like having a mother and a father. "Loving one doesn't cancel out the other," she writes.
After a U.S. presidential election anchored on the proposal to build a wall to shut out Mexican immigrants, she says she feels like her home countries are locked "in the really bad stage at the end of the marriage, and nobody's talking to each other."
The writer plans to bring an open heart with her to the Salt Lake City visit, although at public events when she is asked "the ambassador of everything" questions, she says she feels inadequate. She's tempted to look around the room for an adult who could answer such big questions.
One question she will keep asking in her work, as prompted by her friendship with the Polish writer and journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski, is this: "Does a writer have to live in a perpetual border in order to be able to see?"
"I'm still trying to figure my life out," she says. "It's such a complex design, the lives we live. Writing is so much a work of the spirit. When it comes through my heart, it has to come through a very violent emotion, like rage or deep sorrow or shame. It comes out of its own accord, like giving birth. When it comes out, it's with all the afterbirth, and then I clean it up."
P The writer will speak at a Tanner Humanities Center event hosted by RadioWest host Doug Fabrizio, which will be aired on the radio station on Wednesday. (Call KUER at 801-585-9378 for airtime.)
When • Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • All free tickets have been distributed, but a few standby tickets are available at t 801-581-7989.