The Macondo Workshop itself, conceived in 1995, is the brainchild of Sandra Cisneros, whose goal was to create an environment more welcoming and nurturing than she herself had experienced as an MFA student.Hosted today by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, Texas, the workshop attracts a primarily but not exclusively Latina/o audience of writers.
The writer listens quietly, making notes or not, until everyone has read.
(It’s important for respondents not to omit words just because an earlier respondent read them aloud; the writer learns a great deal from hearing how often particular choices resonated with listeners.) When everyone is done, the writer simply thanks the class.
In my experience, such students have most often, though not always, been white men, who seem to feel more comfortable holding forth for extended periods, occupying air-time, delivering mini-lectures.
This can function to silence students with less privileged academic preparations, less confidence, or both, who are often students of color, female students, and/or students from the working class or poverty. It focuses our attention, not on the clever critic, but on the text and on what’s working.
The reading of the lists is often surprisingly beautiful, like a strange, echoing poem, and pointing functions as a respectful, non-intrusive way to build trust and rapport early in the course.
More importantly, it democratizes the feedback experience in a radical way, cutting past acquired vocabularies and concepts, throwing respondents back on their instincts and ears.
It builds respect for all the writers in the room, laying a positive groundwork for the traditional workshop-method critiques that will follow.
Yet I write with hesitation, knowing full well that having survived within the academy for so long means that I have surely and unconsciously imbibed many of its white-normative assumptions, no matter how critically resistant I try to be.
Multicultural educators have been telling us for decades now that the “add one and stir” approach to diversity is insufficient: mixing in a couple of writers of color, a couple of women writers, and/or a couple of queer writers keeps them at the periphery.
Revising our pedagogy to welcome all our students and nurture everyone’s talent means continuing to ask ourselves foundational questions.