Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Thomas Wolfe Winner: 'a short story is when people shut up and listen'

Sandra Cisneros
Novelist and short story writer Sandra Cisneros is this year's winner of the Thomas Wolfe Award, sponsored by the Department of English at UNC Chapel Hill. She will deliver the free public Wolfe lecture at 7:30 p.m., on Tuesday, Oct. 21, in the Genome Sciences Building on the campus. 

Winner of a MacArthur "genius grant," Cisneros is the author of two award-winning novels, "The House on Mango Street" and "Carmelo," as well as three collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, "Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories" and, most recently, "Have You Seen Marie," a picture book for adults.

In 2002, the Missouri Review asked Chicago native Cisneros about her definition of a short story. Her answer:
I don’t know what the definition of a short story is, and I don’t even care to answer that question. That’s something somebody in academia would think about. I just want to tell a story, and if people listen, and if it stays with you, it’s a story. For me, a story’s a story if people want to hear it; it’s very much based on oral storytelling. And for me, a story is a story when people give me the privilege of listening when I’m speaking it out loud, whether I’m reading it in a banquet hall for a convention and it’s the waitresses and busboys who are looking up from their jobs, or whether it’s across an ice house table (ice house is an outdoor bar here in San Antonio), or whether it’s a group of my girlfriends when we’re having soup. Its power is that it makes people shut up and listen, and not many things make people shut up and listen these days. They remember it, and it stays with them without their having to take notes. They wind up retelling it, and it affects their lives, and they’ll never look at something the same way again. It changes the way they think, in other words.
The Wolfe Prize and Lecture honors the memory of Thomas Clayton Wolfe, UNC class of 1920. Previous winners include Ron Rash, Josephine Humphreys, Lee Smith, Robert Morgan, Reynolds Price, Fred Chappell and Ellen Gilchrist.