Book Review: A House of My Own: Stories From My Life

In this collection of essays, letters, lectures, and more, Sandra Cisneros opens wide the doors to the house of her life

<i>A House of My Own: Stories From My Life</i>

A House of My Own: Stories From My Life

by Sandra Cisneros
Knopf, 400 pp., $28.95

Virginia Woolf famously wrote in 1929 that "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." The gist of that idea is that, historically, women did not have the same access to the structures of power as men and were often relegated to the drudgeries of the domestic sphere, which put them at a disadvantage when it came to public forms of artistic expression like writing. In her latest book, A House of My Own, Sandra Cisneros uses the domestic sphere – more specifically the image of a house as the seat of a writer's creativity – to curate and furnish the story of her life in letters.

In this collection of letters, essays, lectures, and photographs, we see a functional autobiography reflecting the same themes that Cisneros has used to embroider her fiction and poetry over the past 35 years: sexuality; gendered expectations from within the family structure and society; dedication to community and nonviolent social change; and a deep appreciation for art, music, and food.

Most of these themes are made manifest in the striking essay "Huipiles," which demonstrates many of Cisneros' concerns as a politically aware artist, woman, and Mexican-American. Cisneros imagines her foremothers' practice of weaving the iconic peasant tunics: "Instead of writing books, which they could not do, they created a universe with designs as intricate and complex as any novel." These women without rooms and money of their own "wrote" in fiber and thread, an art form that has been threatened by American imperialism south of the U.S.-Mexico border: "In a time when 75 percent of the manufacturing industry is owned by American corporations operating in Mexico," writes Cisneros, "when indigenous communities can no longer afford to stay in their villages and are forced to migrate north, the craft of these textiles may be lost altogether, and this clothing gone forever."

Cisneros, who turns 61 in December, is clearly circumspect about her life and its contents. She recently sold her archive of letters, manuscripts, diaries, and other effects related to her literary career to the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University. In this process of preservation and reflection, Cisneros faces and admits her privilege and ensuing blind spots, embraces her heartbreaks, and celebrates both life and death. In so doing, she opens wide the doors to the house of her life, and we are all privileged to cross the threshold.

Sandra Cisneros will speak about A House of My Own: Stories From My Life at the Texas Book Festival Sat., Oct. 17, 3pm, at Central Presbyterian Church, 200 E. Eighth.

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