Leonard Cohen’s Early Fiction ~ NYT


By Nathan Goldman

  • Oct. 7, 2022

A BALLET OF LEPERS: A Novel and Stories, by Leonard Cohen

In 1963, four years before his first album, a promising young poetnamed Leonard Cohen released his debut novel, “The Favorite Game.” Jack McClelland, the Canadian publisher who’d enthusiastically issued Cohen’s second poetry collection, “The Spice-Box of Earth,” initially declined to put out the evocative yet disorderly bildungsroman; he felt it was marred by the egotism of a “first novel.” Cohen responded that the book was actually “a third novel disguised as a first”; though he hadn’t published them, by then he had already begun “Famous Havana Diary,” which he would never finish, and completed “A Ballet of Lepers,” which he once said was “probably a better novel” than “The Favorite Game.” But despite Cohen’s best efforts, it never appeared during his lifetime.

Six years after his death, this work is the centerpiece of a new collection of juvenilia compiled by the scholar Alexandra Pleshoyano, who also co-edited Cohen’s previous posthumous book, “The Flame.” “A Ballet of Lepers” sets the longer title piece alongside 15 short stories and one radio playscript, all written between 1956 and 1960, when Cohen was in his 20s. These early experiments are the most minor of Cohen’s minor fictional oeuvre. Fleetingly brilliant, they find him circling the subjects that would occupy him all his life — sex, violence, sacredness and the ecstatic moments when all of the above become indistinguishable — but struggling to find the fullest expression of his aesthetic.

“A Ballet of Lepers,” a grim fable with shades of Poe and Dostoyevsky, follows a 35-year-old bookkeeper living alone in a rented room in Montreal who is called upon to care for a grandfather he has never met. When the narrator witnesses this feeble newfound patriarch attacking a police officer at a train station, the display unleashes an amorphous, long-harbored fury. Soon the grandson finds himself threatening an irritating co-worker, manipulating his lover and instigating a campaign of cruelty against an unsuspecting baggage clerk. For the narrator, consumed by a desperate sense of destiny, brutality itself becomes a source of meaning. He associates his petty barbarity with world-historical horrors — “it happened,” he muses, “just as Buchenwald happened, and Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz” — even as it fills him with an unsettling affection for humanity. “We will say that it is the plan of a madman, the idea of a madman; but the madman is ourselves.”

While the novel is stirring in its almost mythological simplicity, compelling in its portrait of deranged rapture, intelligently attuned to the seductions and self-delusions of false transcendence, it is also structurally clumsy, hindered by a climactic twist and mechanically staged stock characters. The women, especially — the narrator’s severe landlady, his naïve lover, Marylin, and the baggage clerk’s conniving adulteress wife — are underimagined, often collapsing into tiresome archetypes.

These same flaws afflict the more mature “The Favorite Game” (Cohen’s own ranking notwithstanding) and its 1966 follow-up, “Beautiful Losers,” as well as the short fiction collected in “A Ballet of Lepers.” But unlike the early novel, many of these stories are built around striking images of frailty and desire. In “Polly,” two 11-year-olds rendezvous in a dark garage while a friend plays the recorder, unwittingly providing the soundtrack to their ambling intimacy; in “A Week Is a Very Long Time,” which bears a distinct resemblance to a passage in “The Favorite Game,” two lovers witness the slaying of a cat from a hotel window. These scenes express the same subtle sense for life that animates songs like “Chelsea Hotel #2” or “Hallelujah.” In his lyrics, Cohen took the melodrama and solipsism that plagued his prose and alchemized them into something more moving and mysterious.

Once he turned to songwriting, Cohen set fiction aside. Perhaps it was a purely strategic decision, or maybe he ultimately understood that it was not his form. If the pieces gathered in “A Ballet of Lepers” testify to this, they nonetheless offer nascent glimmers of his inimitable artistic vision: intimate yet aloof, trembling with weakness even as it aches toward wisdom.

Russell Chatham’s Reflections On Role Of Artist ~ The New West

Met him at J. Harrison’s place in Patagonia, Az. years ago.. had dinner of Dove, Quail and other exotic food that they spent hours preparing and then hours eating… When the wine count went over ten bottles I wasn’t paying close attention anymore.



by Todd Wilkinson

Pale Winter Moonrise by Russell Chatham

Pale Winter Moonrise by Russell Chatham

In Jackson Hole, the immutable muse for generations of visual artists has been the Tetons. In Big Sky, that landmark is Lone Peak and in Bozeman, the Bridgers.

Just to the east, painter, writer, restaurateur, and incorrigibly-addicted angler Russell Chatham became legend for his association with a different topographical feature, Paradise Valley.

We all know of Paradise Valley for the Yellowstone River that runs through it from Yellowstone National Park to Livingston and then angles to an eventual rendezvous with the Missouri.

A lot of folks also have treated themselves to a sojourn at Chico Hot Springs before moseying into Livingston where Chatham for decades was a social fixture and held court at his signature restaurant.

Scores of residents throughout Greater Yellowstone own original Chatham oils and high-end lithographs, displaying them next to priceless works by French Impressionists and treasured western artists like Bierstadt, Moran, Rungius and Catlin. Some of the notable private collectors in the region and beyond include Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Ted Turner, Jessica Lange, Margot Kidder, Jack Nicholson, Tom Brokaw, Jeff Bridges and Harrison Ford.

Chatham’s artistic life force was his grandfather, the great California muralist Gottardo Piazzoni (1872-1945).  A few years ago, Chatham moved back to his childhood homeland in northern California and recommenced painting where his extraordinary career with fishing and standing behind the easel began.

I once asked one of Chatham’s closest friends William Randolph Hearst III to interpret Chatham. “You must understand that ‘Russell The Personality’ is a wholly separate character from the life of Russell Chatham the painter, though at the same time they are inseparable. No matter what he does, his adventure with it becomes larger than life,” Hearst said.

“As good a painter as he is,” Hearst added, “Russell’s an equally wonderful storyteller and devoted friend, an absolutely superb fisherman who might be among the best on the planet, an intrepid restaurant owner, gourmet cook, wine aficionado, writer, boutique book publisher and general roustabout.”

If any contemporary landscape painter qualified as a genuine rock star in the northern Rockies, it was Chatham, now a late septuagenarian.

Starting in the 1960s, he was among a group of artists who went to Paradise Valley to escape the rat race, to fish, and go about their own media adventures without being hassled.

Those figures included Chatham, writers Jim Harrison, Tom McGuane, the late William Hjortsberg, Richard Brautigan, actors Peter Fonda, Jeff Bridges, Kidder, Warren Oates, Nicholson, Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, Sam Waterston, singer Jimmy Buffett, director Sam Peckinpah and others.

Chatham’s style of painting landscapes, known for its fleeting, muted, tonal bands of horizontal color, summons up moods of introspection rather than blushes of superficial sanguine cheeriness.

They evoke the feeling you get when you realize you are getting older and the sensation hits home when you take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror, thinking about the kind of life you’ve lead.

When I asked Chatham to ponder that feeling, he shared this thought: “Early on, I was never concerned about having a career, so I didn’t have one. And now nothing could interest me less. But I think we all have a programmed tape running inside us, and most of mine is now stored on the right hand side of the cassette.  I finally feel I know enough to paint what I could only dream about in my twenties.  People say it’s time to slow down, relax, go fishing.  Well, I took the first forty years of my life off and went fishing, and now my tape is telling me to finish what I was put on earth to do.  Before, time didn’t matter. Now it does.”

Given the times, he still feels compelled to act upon a conviction he stated earlier in his life about the role of artist: “The artist does not simply hold a mirror to society. If the world now is greedy, the artist must be generous.  If there is war and hate, he must be peaceful and loving.  If the world is insane, he must offer sanity, and if the world is becoming a void, he must fill it with his soul.”

Chatham didn’t say it, but one could add that the artist’s challenge is really no different from the obligation of the viewer. If painting represents a near-religious experience for some, perhaps it’s not a bad thing to act on those kindly impulses.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If it isn’t obvious, Chatham loves water. Here are a few of his interpretations of some classic Western rivers.

Winter On The South Fork Of Deep Creek, lithograph, by Russell Chatham

Winter On The South Fork Of Deep Creek, lithograph, by Russell Chatham

Summer Twilight, Colorado River, lithograph, by Russell Chatham

Summer Twilight, Colorado River, lithograph, by Russell Chatham

Winter Dawn On The South Platte River, lithograph, by Russell Chatham

Winter Dawn On The South Platte River, lithograph, by Russell Chatham



‘You’re an Artist. That’s What You Do.’


Russell Chatham at his studio in Marin County, California. ”I paint everything from memory,” he says.

In what would be his final interview, the famed Marin County–based landscape painter Russell Chatham tells Alta publisher Will Hearst where he finds inspiration, what it’s like to work on commission, and why Gauguin brought him to tears.

UPDATE: It was with sadness that we learned Russell Chatham passed away on November 10, 2019. This was his final interview.

Landscapes are notoriously easy to paint but exceedingly difficult to paint well. For Russell Chatham, the challenge was impossible to resist. There was no other way. Chatham is the grandson of San Francisco muralist Gottardo Piazzoni, and before he turned 20, he had found his calling in painting nature.

In a career that has spanned half a century, Chatham became famous for capturing Montana’s rugged vistas and California’s golden hillsides through an approach that seems to combine a muted, idealized reality and the stuff of dreams. His collectors include Hollywood names like Jessica Lange, Jack Nicholson, and Robert Redford. Along the way, he was married three times, and made a fortune from his paintings, book publishing, and running a restaurant—only to lose it all. Chatham steadfastly believed in following one’s heart.

In what would be the artist’s final interview, Alta editor and publisher Will Hearst sat down with Chatham as he reflected on the difficulties he endured as a young painter and how he’s depended on the love and support of the women in his life. (Disclosure: Hearst is a collector of Chatham’s paintings.)

WILL HEARST:As a little boy, did you think, “I like painting” or “This is what I want to do with my life”?

RUSSELL CHATHAM:When I was eight or nine, it was clear painting was a big deal to me, and so I did it on my own, and all through school I stayed at it relentlessly…through my teen years and through my 20s.

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

Maria Kalman Finds Truth In The Mess ~ The New Yorker

It was the early days of the pandemic and the artist and writer Maira Kalman had taken refuge in Saugerties, New York, with her son and daughter-in-law. She was at the farmers’ market in Kingston when inspiration struck. “I saw this woman holding a giant cabbage, and I was, like: that’s it. I’m done. I know what I’m doing now,” the artist recalls. “The woman wasn’t exactly thrilled that I wanted to photograph her, but I asked politely and respectfully, and she agreed.”

When Kalman looked at her archives, she noticed that she had a large collection of photographs of women holding things. “I started thinking about the responsibilities that women hold, the nature of being a woman, and what it means to contain the complexity of life,” she said. The idea prompted her to start painting. “When you paint, things reveal themselves. You see what’s on your mind and what’s important. I relate to the paper in an emotional way. I want there to be surprises; I want there to be mistakes, and I want there to be problems. It’s more interesting to me that way. There’s truth in the mess.”

The project that germinated from that encounter in the market, “Women Holding Things,” gathers dozens of new images and some previously unpublished ones. The paintings have been collected in a new book, which will come out next month, and will also be on display at Mary Ryan Gallery, from October 6th to November 12th. ♦

This is drawn from “Women Holding Things.”

A girl in a white dress holds a violin.
Two women in yellow dresses walk side by side.
A man embraces a small girl and holds a cigarette.
A woman holds a ukulele and stands in a field near a large cherry tree.
A black hat rests on the seat of a chair.
A woman in a red jacket balances a bundle of grass on her head.
Two women have tea near a piano.
A portrait of a woman in a green dress.
A woman carries a boulder in a field.
A woman holds a chicken.


When you’re afraid of what might happen, remember that all you have is now.

By Norman Fischer


No Beginning, No Ending, No Fear
Photograph by PlainPicture

The Buddha has many epithets. He’s called the Enlightened One, the One Who Thus Comes and Goes, the Conqueror, the Noblest of All Humans Who Walk on Two Legs. He is also called the Fearless One because he has seen through all the causes of fear. His awakening moment, coming suddenly after six years of intense meditation, shows him that there is actually nothing to fear. Fear—convincing as it may seem—is actually a conceptual mistake.

What is there to be afraid of anyway? Fear is always future-based. We fear what might happen later. The past is gone, so there’s no point in being afraid of it. If past traumas cause fear in us, it is only because we fear that the traumatic event will reoccur. That’s what trauma is—wounding caused by a past event that makes us chronically fearful about the future and so queasy in the present. But the future doesn’t exist now, in the present, the only moment in which we are ever alive. So though our fear may be visceral, it is based on a misconception, that the future is somehow now. It’s not. The present might be unpleasant and even dangerous, but it is never fearful. In the full intensity of the present moment there is never anything to fear—there is only something to deal with. It is a subtle point but it is absolutely true: the fear I experience now is not really present-moment based: I am afraid of what is going to happen. This is what the Buddha realized. If you could be in the radical present moment, not lost in the past, not anxious about the future, you could be fearless.

If you are suddenly threatened by an intense-looking guy pointing a gun at your head, you will likely be frozen with fear. But even then, it isn’t the appearance of the man and the gun that you are afraid of. It’s what is going to happen next. It is true, though, that in that moment you are not thinking about the future. Your experience is immediate, body-altering fear. Your reaction is biological; you can’t help it. As an animal, you have survival instinct, so when your life is threatened your reaction is automatic and strong. But you are a human animal with human consciousness—a problematic condition, but one with possibilities. It is possible that you could overcome your animal fear.

There are many recorded instances in the scriptures of the Buddha’s life being threatened. In all such cases the Buddha remains calm and subdues the threat. Though the stories may or may not be mythical, they certainly intend to tell us that we are capable of overcoming the survival instinct and remaining calm even in the face of grave danger. The truth is, in many dangerous situations the ability to stay calm will keep you safer than your gut reaction of fight or flight.

But what if your life weren’t actually being threatened? What if the only thing actually happening to you was insult, disrespect, frustration, or betrayal, but you reacted with the alarm and urgency of someone whose life was at stake? And continued, long after the event, to harbor feelings of anger and revenge? In that case, your reaction would be out of scale with the event, your animal instinct for survival quite misplaced. You would have taken a relatively small matter and made it into something much more unpleasant, and even more harmful, than it needed to be.

Impermanence is the basic Buddhist concept. Nothing lasts. Our life begins, it ends, and every moment that occurs between this beginning and ending is another beginning and ending. In other words, every moment we are disappearing a little. Life doesn’t end suddenly at death. It is ending all the time. Impermanence is constant.

Although we all understand this when we think about it, we seem not to be capable of really taking it in. Buddhism teaches that behind all our fears is our inability to actually appreciate, on a visceral level, this truth of impermanence. Unable to accept that we are fading away all the time, we are fearful about the future, as if somehow if everything went exactly right we could be preserved for all time. To put this another way, all our fears are actually displacements of the one great fear, the fear of death.

These days we have fears that seem to go beyond our personal fear of death. Climate change is a catastrophe. In the fall of 2018 we had terrible forest fires in California. Even as far away from the fires as the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, you could smell the smoke. You couldn’t go outside, the air was so bad. But even worse than the experience was the thought that this is the future, this is how it is going to be from now on. There are going to be more and more fires, hurricanes, typhoons; the ice caps are melting, sea levels and summer temperatures are rising, the planet is slowly becoming uninhabitable. This may or may not be true, but there are good reasons to fear that it is true. So we feel afraid not for our own death but also for our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren. What will happen to them in the future?

I have a friend who is a great outdoorsman and environmental activist. Some years ago, when the US government was just beginning to become active in denying climate change, my friend got really upset. He was upset about climate change realities but even more upset that people weren’t paying attention to them, were denying or ignoring climate change, because the government was casting doubt. Here we were in a desperate situation, something needed to be done right away, and people were going on with their ordinary business as though everything were fine.

My friend was in despair over this, and he would tell me about it. As the years went on his despair and upset grew and grew.

One day when he was telling me about it, I thought, It isn’t climate change he’s upset about. I said this to him, and he got really mad at me. I didn’t really know what he was upset about. But it seemed to me that although he believed it was climate change he was upset about, actually it was something else. He stayed for a while and eventually he said, You were right. So, what is it you are upset about? I asked him. He said, Yes, I am upset about climate change, but I didn’t realize until you brought it up that there is something else I am upset about: I am getting old, I can’t climb mountains like I used to. Who knows how long I will be able to ride my bike for hundreds of miles or do all the things I love to do. I am upset about the climate, but what makes me feel this anguish is that I am scared of my aging and dying. The planet really is under threat. And so am I.

So it may be true that the power of our fear always comes from our fear of endings—our own ending being the closest and most immediate of all endings. When we think of the world of the future, we can feel sorrow, grief, and disappointment that we human beings cannot reverse course and do better, that we seem to be unable to solve a problem we ourselves have caused.

But fear is different, fear is desolation, desperation, anguish, despair, and sometimes anger. Grief, sorrow, disappointment are quiet feelings we can live with. They can be peaceful and poignant, they can be motivating. When we feel these feelings, we can be more compassionate, kinder to one another, we can be patiently active in promoting solutions.

When we understand the real basis of our fear, we can see through it. Will our lives end, will the world end? Yes. But this was always going to be the case. All difficult moments occur in the present, and the present moment, no matter what it brings, is always completely different from our projections about the future. Even if what we fear about the future actually comes to pass, the present moment in which it occurs won’t be anything like the moment we projected in the past. Fear is always fantastic, always fake. What we fear never happens in the way we fear it.

Photograph © Brigitte Lustenberger, courtesy Christophe Guye Galerie

There’s a traditional Buddhist practice to contemplate beginnings and endings, called the five reflections. The reflections gently guide the practitioner in meditating on the fact that old age, sickness, and death are built-in features of the human body and mind, that no one can avoid them. Life begins, therefore it has to end. And being subject to beginning and ending, life is inherently vulnerable.

The point of this meditation isn’t to frighten; quite the opposite: the way to overcome fear is to face it and become familiar with it. Since fear is always fear about the future, to face the present fear, and see that it is misplaced, is to reduce it. When I give myself over, for a period of time, or perhaps on a regular basis, to the contemplation of the realities of my aging and dying, I become used to them. I begin to see them differently. Little by little I come to see that I am living and dying all the time, changing all the time, and that this is what makes life possible and precious. In fact, a life without impermanence is not only impossible, it is entirely undesirable. Everything we prize in living comes from the fact of impermanence. Beauty. Love. My fear of the ending of my life is a future projection that doesn’t take into account what my life actually is and has always been. The integration of impermanence into my sense of identity little by little makes me less fearful.

The reflection on beginnings and endings is taken still further in Buddhist teachings. The closer you contemplate beginnings and endings, the more you begin to see that they are impossible. They can’t exist. There are no beginnings and endings. The Heart Sutra, chanted every day in Zen temples around the world, says that there is no birth and so there is no death either.

What does this mean? We are actually not born. We know this from science, there is nothing that is created out of nothing—everything comes from something, is a continuation and a transformation of something that already exists. When a woman gives birth, she does not really give birth, she simply opens her body to a continuation of herself and the father of the child, to their parents and their parents before them, to the whole human and nonhuman family of life and nonlife that has contributed to the coming together of preexisting elements that we will see as a newborn child. So there really is no birth. This is not a metaphorical truth.

If no beginning, then no ending. There is no death. In what we call death the body does not disappear. It continues its journey forth. Not a single element is lost. The body simply transforms into air and water and earth and sky. Our mind travels on too, its passions, fears, loves, and energies continue on throughout this universe. Because we have lived, the world is otherwise than it would have been, and the energy of our life’s activity travels onward, circulates, joins and rejoins others to make the world of the future. There is no death, there is only continuation. There is nothing to be afraid of.

Excerpted from When You Greet Me I Bow: Notes and Reflections from a Life in Zen by Norman Fischer © 2021. Reprinted with permission of Shambhala Publications.


One of my favorite writers and poets … rŌbert


“A poem is never done,” the writer Sandra Cisneros told me in July, over dinner at La Posadita, a restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, the Mexican city where she’s lived for almost ten years. Wearing a black-and-white huipil and her hair in two small, high buns, Cisneros ordered platters of fideo seco and nopales for the table. We had met to talk about her new poetry collection, “Woman Without Shame,” just out from Knopf. Though it’s been twenty-eight years since she’s published a book of poems, she’s never stopped writing them. “I’d throw my poems under the bed, like Emily Dickinson,” she said.

The sixty-seven-year-old Cisneros is the author of short stories, personal essays, novels, and three previous poetry collections. But she is best known for “The House on Mango Street,” a semi-autobiographical novel in vignettes that conjures a hardscrabble childhood in nineteen-sixties Chicago. First published by Houston’s Arte Público Press in 1984, and reissued by Vintage in 1991, it has become a coming-of-age classic, one that’s read in classrooms across the country and has sold more than six million copies. As Ricardo Ortiz, an English professor at Georgetown, told me, it helped make Cisneros an “indispensable voice.”

Sign up for the New Yorker Recommends newsletter.

What our staff is reading, watching, and listening to each week.

The only daughter of a Mexican upholsterer father and a Mexican American mother, Cisneros grew up with six brothers in Chicago’s West Side, a neighborhood so divided by racial and income inequality that, in 1966, Martin Luther King, Jr., moved into one of its slum tenements in protest. Throughout Cisneros’s childhood in the sixties and seventies, she and her family regularly went back to Mexico. Cisneros expressed her sense of dislocation by writing poems in her bedroom, whose door didn’t close, leading to continual interruptions.

Cisneros attended Loyola University Chicago, and, in 1976, she entered Iowa’s poetry program, where she studied under Donald Justiceand Louise Glück, learning alongside Joy Harjo and at the same time as Rita Dove, both future Poet Laureates. Iowa’s poetry and fiction programs were separate duchies, but Cisneros merged the disciplines by writing prose poems. “It was a new form, but Donald Justice thought it was a waste of time,” the writer and historian Paul Alexander, a former classmate, said. Back then, teachers admired confessional poets such as Robert Lowell and Anne Sexton. “We had no voice,” Harjo said, describing her and Cisneros’s feelings of being outsiders at Iowa. “Culturally, it was sideways. . . . We come from places that are land-centered, Indigenous. Our relationship to land and language is essentially different.” Cisneros has said that she felt “homeless” at Iowa, and, although she went on to teach, she never found a permanent place in the academy.

While Cisneros was at Iowa, she started writing what would become forty-five lyrical vignettes—a book she titled “The House on Mango Street.” Influenced by the experimental Latin American Boom novels, she wrote the book in the voice of Esperanza Cordero, who observes the poverty surrounding her Chicago family. “Dead cars appeared overnight like mushrooms,” one passage reads, describing a vacant lot where she and her friends play. Reading “The House on Mango Street” has become a rite of passage for many Latinxers. David Bowles, a Texas-based Chicano novelist, encountered it as a child and felt recognized. “My mother and my brothers and I had lived several years in Section 8 housing,” he said. “It made me feel seen.” The Latina writer and artist Carribean Fragoza studied it in fourth grade, during a summer writing camp, a moment when she remembers being “surrounded by white kids for the first time.” The book helped Cisneros win, among other prizes, the Lannan Literary Award, the American Book Award, and a MacArthur “genius” grant. The same year she won the MacArthur, Cisneros started teaching a class in San Antonio that developed into the Macondo Writers Workshop. Now in its third decade, Macondo offers workshops to a diverse student body on subjects ranging from young-adult literature to translingual poetics.

Cisneros’s home in San Miguel’s San Juan de Dios parish is named Casa Coatlicue, after the Indigenous goddess, and Latina archetypes such as Coatlicue and La Llorona echo throughout her work. Cisneros, along with writers such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Ana Castillo, and Cherríe Moraga, was an integral part of a late-twentieth-century Latinx movement that celebrated the subversiveness of Indigenous folktales. She was one of the first Latina authors to write books to mainstream publishing success that feature abused women, and today her influence can be seen in writers such as Natalie Diaz and Reyna Grande, whose complex poetry and memoirs limn violence in Native American and Latinx communities. “Discovering Sandra’s book [“The House on Mango Street”] was a revelation,” Grande said, in an e-mail. “She gave me permission, and her bendición, to embark on my own writing journey.”

Cisneros’s success, and her support of programs such as Macondo, have given her a totemic reputation. “It’s like Sandra’s existing in this heaven, this other space,” Fragoza told me. In conversation with Latinx writers, I heard numerous tales of Cisneros’s magnetism and outsized generosity. The Chicana novelist Helena María Viramontes said that when her husband was ill, Cisneros invited the couple to her house. Speaking with emotion in her voice, Viramontes recalled, “She read to us as a present. It almost chokes me up.”

Cisneros’s magnanimous gestures occasionally backfire, as when she blurbed Jeanine Cummins’s 2020 book, “American Dirt,” a thriller about an Acapulco woman whose family is murdered by a cartel kingpin. “This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas,” Cisneros wrote. After it came out, the book was widely criticized for its racial stereotypes. Backers such as the actors Gina Rodriguez and Salma Hayek and the poet Erika L. Sánchez walked back their praise of the novel. But Cisneros refused to retract her endorsement, inciting viral criticism, especially in the Latinx community. Fragoza said Cisneros’s blurb is a “betrayal” that “revealed some serious disconnections between Sandra and writers today, with Sandra existing as the untouchable queen of Chicana Latinx literature, and the rest of us are just bottom feeders, trying to get into publishing.”

I asked Cisneros about such responses, and she said that the reaction to “American Dirt” “was as bad as the extreme right that bans L.G.B.T.Q. books.” Perhaps candor and contention are to be expected from a writer who regularly takes up taboo subjects ranging from poverty and violence to female sexuality.

Cisneros’s fearlessness runs through “Woman Without Shame,” whose poems capture her solitude, erotic longings, and life in Mexico with rich language and sharp humor. I spoke to her in a series of interviews in San Miguel de Allende, and in subsequent phone and text conversations. The following has been condensed and edited.


Dieciocho at Casa de Lane (Tim) Rio Blanco Chile

Fiestas Patrias in Chile or “Dieciocho” / 18 Sept

Fiestas Patrias in Chile or Chilean Independence Day is held each year on 18 September to celebrate their independance from the Spanish Conquistadores.

Tim & son Vicente

Tim & Don Frank

Part of the crowd with Colin Mitchell

What Hemingway left in Cuba


By Robert K. Elder

  • Sept. 21, 2022

In an untitled, three-page short story, Ernest Hemingway casts F. Scott Fitzgerald as a scrappy boxer who leaves the ring battered and disfigured but ultimately victorious.

He sketches out a novel he’ll never write, “A New Slain Knight,” calling it a “picaresque novel for America” that will follow his protagonist through a prison escape, a bank robbery and noirish double-crosses.

Wearing his American Red Cross uniform and smiling at the camera, an 18-year-old Hemingway huddles in a trench with Italian soldiers during World War I, just days before he was wounded by a mortar shell and machine-gun fire, an experience that inspired him to write “A Farewell to Arms.”

And in a notebook entry from 1926, there is a three-page meditation on death and suicide — 35 years before he took his own life.