"We tell ourselves stories in order to live." - Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem
I'm Cinelle Barnes, a non-fiction writer and educator from Manila, Philippines. I write memoirs and personal essays on trauma, and on being a mother and immigrant in America.
I started writing at age seven. Books and words have been the only consistent thing in my life -- through twelve years of living in a grand, haunted, infamous mansion, eight years as an undocumented immigrant in New York City, seven years as a new bride in the good ole South, five years as a (very nervous) mother, and two years as an MFA student. To paraphrase a quote by my favorite essayist, Joan Didion, I tell myself stories in order to live.
In 2013, a professor of mine dared me to write about my big secret: that I'd lived in the United States "out of status," taking on odd jobs that involved cleaning toilets, scrubbing sinks, washing incontinent people's underwear, and to my advantage, working off-the-books for an immigration lawyer -- all while finishing school and graduating Summa Cum Laude. The dare became a twenty-page memoir called "Letter from an Illegal," later nominated for the 2014 AWP Journal Intro Award for Creative Non-Fiction.
That same dare put me into momentum: I started writing about more secrets.
All the hard work of unraveling and uncovering has culminated in Monsoon Mansion. Writing it has been my most ambitious and fulfilling project thus far. I’m glad to call it mine and to re-meet my child self in its pages. Filling page after page of the memoir gives me hope for the girl that I was – that not all was lost to trauma and abuse, but that there were, in fact, many times of magic, laughter, and wonder. Writing my story, all while caring for my young child -- her bright eyes, hiccupy laugh, and fondness for all things sparkly -- gives me the courage to look back and look in, to recall the years spent in poverty and darkness, and say, “That child was a warrior, and that warrior was me. That warrior child twirled and sketched and dreamt her way to survival, and I now must tell her story.”
To learn more about my work, please click on the "Essays and Books" tab on the left. Thank you.
Read Cinelle's Literary City Guide to Charleston on Literary Hub.
South 85 Journal asked me to write about memoir and mental/stress disorders. Since the essay's publication, educators, therapists, and memoirists have shared it on Facebook, Twitter, and through their industry networks. The effect of this essay reminded me that I am not merely called to success or greatness, but to point people to HOPE. Read "Why I Write Memoir" here.
Great News! I've been selected as one of twelve writers for Kundiman's Inaugural Creative Non-Fiction Intensive. Through the help of some friends and a Kickstarter campaign, I will be attending this intensive on April 9 & 10. Thank you to everyone who's supported me thus far!