Tag: Sandra Cisneros

How to Write Your Book



By Judy Carmack Bross



Scott Blackwood

Writing the book that convinces readers to stay up all night to find out who did it, using food to evoke memories in a class entitled “Mangoes & Cotton Candy” or how to tell your story in 750 words–there’s something for all writers at the Northwestern University Summer Writers’ Conference to present online seminars July 30-31.

Award-winning authors will offer seminars on how to generate dramatically rich scenes, evoke memories through metaphors, and layer your writing with suspense.  Successful writers will get down to the business of selling your work with tips on attracting agents and publishers and entering contests. Sponsored by the Northwestern University School of Professional Studies MA and MFA in Prose and Poetry programs, the Conference welcomes authors at all levels.  

Being virtual, the Conference has attracted top participants joining in from across the country.  We loved previewing some of their tips.

Juan Martinez

Colombian fiction writer Juan Martinez titles his seminar “Dirty Tricks” and will offer five elements of fiction that are guaranteed to make your stories more exciting.  We loved this one:

“A lot of British writers from the 19th century and then more recent authors have tried this silly but useful trick:  add an animal character to your book.  A cute dog goes a long way.  Dickens and Shakespeare knew this.  Vladimir Nabokov, and Elizabeth McKenzie in her wonderful book The Portable Veblen, brought in squirrel characters with obvious success.”

Martinez, whose wife also is a writer, lives in Versailles, Kentucky, and recently competed in a commissioned story in “a strange window of time between 4:30 and 6:20 a.m.” when his two-month-old daughter naps and an older brother wakes up.  We can’t wait to hear his other four tips which Martinez, whose stories are widely published, promises will be wildly useful.

We spoke with Donna Seaman, essayist, Booklist adult books editor, professor, advisor to the National Writer’s Museum, and author of Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists.  Seaman and award-winning journalist and writer Natalie Moore will discuss “Interviewing as an art form, tool, and political act.”

Donna Seaman

“Inspirational, that’s what this Conference can be for all participants.  It is so important to feel supported and understood as a writer and to be part of a community.  The instruction is on a very high level and all the teachers and writers are committed to the deep enjoyment of literature and this year since the Conference is virtual, some of the very best in the field can participate from around the country.

“In the workshops, you get lots of specifics.  The leaders talk crafts, how to write and re-write, and that all-important advice on how not to get discouraged.  Writing offers you so much, including the ability to play with words.  It is an alternative reality where you have control.”

Seaman says that she has “two goddesses” in the writing field:  author and conservationist Terry Tempest Williams and Chicago author Sandra Cisneros.

“I am always astonished by Williams’ depths of courage, warmth, and spirit. Cisneros is just so nimble.  She is so caring in both her poetry and prose and deeply focuses on her joy and freshness.

“Anything in the world that you care about you can find someone out there who cares about it, too and has written about it. You can reach out to them by reading.”

What are a couple of her interviewing tips?

“Always be totally ready in your research and be prepared to abandon your prepared questions.”

We asked Seaman about her work.

“I love writing essays about books and about places where you find books like libraries and bookstores, how it feels to be in a book-rich environment.” 

The Seminary Co-op Bookstores in Chicago is marking its 60th anniversary this year by introducing several initiatives, including the imprinting of Ode Books, which celebrates book spaces and the book industry.  Seaman is one of the authors under contract for the project.

Texan Scott Blackwood whose novel See How Small won the 2016 PEN USA Award for fiction, will teach the nature of Suspense–making things appear when you least expect it.

“Think Hamlet.  Think Breaking Bad. If characters speak in ominous terms about a ghost they have seen or heard about in the first sections of a story, we have a desire to see the ghost appear in a scene. The catch? We want it to surprise us. We want its appearance both to reveal and conceal elements of the story, to create a tension between our appetite to know and the temporary frustration of not knowing. This is suspense, the engine that drives the story, and it works on both the macro (plot) and micro (sentence) levels of storytelling.  Complicating things is my favorite approach.”

The Austin, Texas resident was just hired as Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Hollins College in Roanoke. He teaches creative writing at Northwestern this summer.  We asked what he tells his students to do if they encounter writer’s block.

“Often MFA and Ph.D. students stop taking chances with their writing.  You have to take chances, push yourself beyond, get into speculation and let your imagination leap.  The filter that I use in all my classes is risk-taking and I push my students to do this.

“A favorite book is 2666 by Roberto Bolano which we study in a class I teach on experimental literature.  He takes every chance to make it just right.”

For more information about the rich offerings for the 2021 Northwestern University Writers Conference which could make your writing “just right,” go to sps.northwestern.edu

Welcome Home, Sandra Cisneros






“Chicago is a great incubator. It’s where writers of all kinds can find a nurturing environment to try out their voices,” says Randall Albers, Board President, The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. One of our favorite Chicago voices, internationally beloved author Sandra Cisneros, will receive the prestigious organization’s Fuller Award on March 13 via Zoom. And you are cordially invited to join in the honors.



The Chicago native’s international bestselling novel, The House on Mango Street, set in the Windy City and published while she lived here, has sold over 6,000,000 copies since it was released in 1984. Translated into 20 languages, it is taught from grade schools to universities. Herself a graduate of Loyola University of Chicago, Cisneros wrote in an essay published as the introduction to a 2009 Vintage Contemporaries edition of Mango Street, “Chicago still makes its home in me. I have Chicago stories yet to write.”

Don Evans, founding Executive Director of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame (CLHOF), invites guests of the March 13 presentation to hear more of the “Cisneros’s ability to empower people.” Of the event’s honoree, Evans says, “She is one of the finest writers in the world. Even if you took Chicago out of the equation, there is certainly the importance of her story. Her work, which is so profoundly imparted, has resonated with young people, old people, Latino and Black, all people. It has inspired generations to understand their own lives and how to use their own talents to transform their lives. Mango Street is practically required reading at the middle school level, showing what it means to be an outsider. It is internationally loved.”



Cisneros, who received the National Medal for the Arts in 2016 from President Barack Obama, will be joining the audience from sunny San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, a favorite warm-weather destination for several Chicagoans. Already, signups have come in all the way from Malaysia. “We want CLHOF to be Chicago’s literary window to the world,” Albers shares.

Henry Blake Fuller (1857-1929), an author, editor, poet, critic, and composer, inspired this sought-after award. One of Chicago’s earliest novelists, he authored of The Cliff-Dwellers (1893) and With the Procession (1891). It is awarded annually to a writer with strong Chicago roots who has made an outstanding lifetime contribution to literature.


The Fuller Award.

Ms. Cisneros will be the ninth illustrious Chicago writer honored with the Fuller Award. Previous winners include Gene Wolfe, Harry Mark Petrakis, Haki Madhubuti, Rosellen Brown, Angela Jackson, Stuart Dybek, Sara Paretsky, and Sterling Plumpp. The American Writers Museum and the Chicago Public Library will serve as co-presenters for this major event, previously held at such venues as the Newberry Library and the Poetry Foundation. Cisneros will participate in a conversation with Booklist editor Donna Seaman. Chicago poet Carlos Cumpian will serve as master of ceremonies, and there will be short tributes by local artists and an audience Q&A.




The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame was founded in 2008 to honor, celebrate, preserve, and promote the development of Chicago’s great literary heritage: past, present, and future. This is achieved through such projects as educational programming, awards, exhibits, community events, a Chicago Literary Map, and an annual induction ceremony.

Albers, who headed Story Week for the Festival of Writers at Columbia College, where he was head of the Fiction Writing Department, told us that Chicago’s ability to produce a diversity of top writers has something to do with the varied venues it provides for authors to do readings: “I remember Bill Young, a literary escort to writers seeking local venues, telling me that there are more media gigs here than anywhere else. All publishers want to bring their writers to Chicago and the opportunities we extend to them are second to none. Plus, you don’t find the backbiting here that you do in other cities.”

Albers gives heartfelt credit to Evans for creating CLHOF, conceiving of the idea, and running with it with the sheer force of creativity and will. He describes the board as a relatively small group of people but who know how to make things happen.

Both Albers and Evans are writers. Albers is delighted to report that he has edited down his 1400-page novel, which has a couple of scenes set in Chicago, to 500 pages during the pandemic, adding there’s more to go. He has also authored a number of essays and for Story Week interviewed such literary luminaries as Salman Rushdie and Ray Bradbury.


Randall Albers.


Don Evans. Photo by Keith Dannemiller.

Evans is the author of An Off-White Christmas, featuring stories exploring life changes and chaos. The stories range from a gambling spree in Las Vegas to a caravan traveling to Baraboo, a teepee hotel in Kentucky to a retro movie theatre in Arizona. His website offers Don’s Manuscript Repair Shop where authors can share their works and receive a critique and learn how to make the story optimally successful. He is currently teaching a seminar for the Newberry Library on Chicago writers of the WPA, focusing on the works produced for the Depression Era project and the friendships and collaborations that arose.

Amy Danzer, who serves as an officer for the CLHOF, works at Northwestern University, where she manages several master’s programs, including the MA in Writing and MFA in Prose and Poetry programs. She also directs its Summer Writers’ Conference. Danzer shares, “I have just read House on Mango Street for the tenth time. I hadn’t read it for about eight years and find such genius in her writing.”

The American Writers Museum, Chicago Public Library, and National Museum of Mexican Art will co-present the award to Cisnero’s, whose books will all be available on the Women & Children First website. Partners for the event are Literature For All of Us, Guild Literary Complex, Chicago History Museum, Loyola University Chicago Creative Writing Program, Loyola University Women’s Studies/Gender Studies, StoryStudio Chicago, Open Books, Sarabande Books, Make magazine, The Chicago Poetry Center, Greater Reach Consulting, 826Chi, The Hawkins Project, Josephinum Academy of the Sacred Heart, Vintage & Anchor Books, and Kaye Publicity. The Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation has also provided support to the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.

The event is free and open to the public, but attendees must register in advance on the CLHOF website.