Welcome to Typewriter Tuesday, a series from the American Writers Museum that aims to shed light on the typewriters and other tools behind some of your favorite works of literature. Check back every Tuesday to learn more about these trusty machines and the writers who used them. Our next special exhibit Tools of the Trade, opening June 2019, features more than a dozen typewriters on loan from Steve Soboroff’s impressive collection, as well as other writing implements and instruments used by American writers. Today, we discuss why Sandra Cisneros and Fernando Flores choose to use typewriters for certain writing projects.
This Thursday, May 16 we welcome Sandra Cisneros and Fernando Flores to discuss their approaches to writing and Flores’s highly anticipated debut novel Tears of the Trufflepig. Interestingly, both Cisneros and Flores use typewriters for their writing and one of the many typewriters that will be on display in our upcoming Tools of the Trade exhibit is Sandra Cisneros’s Smith Corona Sterling Model SCM, on loan from the National Museum of Mexican Art. This machine has not arrived yet, so we do not have pictures to share, but you will be able to it once the exhibit opens June 22. In the meantime, the National Museum of Mexican Art shared this handwritten note from Cisneros that will accompany her typewriter.
Here is the note in full:
“This manual typewriter is one I actually used to write my poetry on. Not fiction. Poetry. Poetry needs to be written slowly and by ear. I like to see the hard copy I’ve typed, write my revisions all over it, then retype it again taking it from the top. This process of typing it clean over and over helps me to chip away and ‘see’ the poem as if I was chipping marble with a silver chisel and hammer. I also think poetry is a genre that lends itself to the typewriter — something about the clicks and clacks is very satisfying and soothing.”
The estimated value for this machine, according to Cisneros, is “priceless.” We’d have to agree. Just think of the many poems Cisneros fleshed out on this typewriter, clicking and clacking away until the right words landed in the right places. As she describes in the note, it’s the visual and tactile aspect of a typewriter that allows her to “see” the poem as it begins to form, something that computers, laptops, and cellphones just can’t replicate.
For similar reasons, Flores prefers to write using typewriters. He first began writing seriously about 15 years ago when someone gave him a typewriter and now he writes his first drafts on a typewriter because it’s easier for him to “access the mysterious subconscious through [typing] than writing any other way.”
Flores wrote all of his novel, Tears of the Trufflepig, on an Olivetti Underwood Lettera 32. Much like with Cisneros, Flores appreciates the sensory experience of using a typewriter as a helpful boost to his creative process, saying in an exchange over email, “it allows me to get into a certain rhythm and the sound of the keys pounding is great for momentum. The only way out of a situation is by moving forward.”
The fact that two writers of different generations both use typewriters speaks to the timeless allure of typewriters. They may not be used on a regular basis anymore, but typewriters still captivate our imaginations and seem to elicit great bursts of creativity from us. Flores attributes our fascination with typewriters to their tangible nature, saying:
“The page rises out of the typewriter almost like a flower growing out of the ground, and there’s something mysterious and perhaps magical about seeing these immediate results, on something you can actually hold in your hands.”
In the digital and virtual world we live in today, this sort of satisfaction is hard to come by, which is part of the reason why we refurbish and care for vintage typewriters so that visitors can experience the thrill of typing, of being able to hold your words in your hands. It is also why we’re honoring these magical machines with Tools of the Trade. If you’re excited about the upcoming exhibit, and have been enjoying this content, please consider donating during the spring annual fund appeal. Your contribution will support the museum’s interactive exhibits and exciting literary events, and if you donate this week (May 14 – 21), you’ll receive an invite to the opening reception for the exhibit, where you can see Sandra Cisneros’s typewriter and many more up close before it opens to the public.