Celebrated author, artist and activist Sisnett dies after battle with cancer.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
From the children lulled to sleep by her writing to the underprivileged people she helped connect to the World Wide Web, the passing of Ana Sisnett leaves a void in the Austin arts and advocacy communities, friends say.
The celebrated local author, artist, poet and social activist died Tuesday afternoon at her home after a three-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was 56.
"Ana was involved in the arts community at a grass-roots level, and she connected the arts, social justice work and technology," Lisa Byrd, a longtime friend and executive director of ProArts Collective, said Wednesday. "She had a good life, and she smiled at that. She really had an international impact with her activism. I will miss her deeply."
Sisnett was executive director of Austin Free-Net, which seeks to make the Internet accessible to everyone. She spoke internationally about community technology training and online access, policies and issues. Free-Net put words into action in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita by giving evacuees access to online resources and message boards.
Sisnett received several awards for her community activism, among them the City of Austin's 2001 Susan G. Hadden Telecommunity Award.
Her partner, Priscilla Hale, said Sisnett had "an amazing passion for human rights service and work, which is reflected in every aspect of her life."
Her best-known published work is "Grannie Jus' Come!" — a children's book inspired by her childhood memories of her grandmother — but her writings were also included in several anthologies.
Sisnett was born in Panama; she moved to Los Angeles when she was 13. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in Spanish and communications from the University of California, San Diego, said Hale, who knew Sisnett for about 11 years. After moving to Austin with her then-husband in 1983, Sisnett took courses in Latin American studies at the University of Texas.
Jon Lebkowsky, one of the principals at Social Web Strategies, a social media networking company, said he met Sisnett shortly after her arrival in Austin.
She was "passionate and powerful in her support of people who are traditionally underserved online," he said.
"Some people just want to make the system work the way that it should. She was one of those people," Lebkowsky said.
Sisnett worked for several years at the now-defunct nonprofit Foundation for a Compassionate Society and at the Peace House, both of which promoted community activism. Sisnett became executive director of Austin Free-Net in 1998.
She was a volunteer and organizer for ALLGO, formerly known as Austin Latino Lesbian Gay Organization. Sisnett was also a volunteer with Alma de Mujer, a retreat center near Lake Travis for indigenous women.
"She was always willing to teach anyone all that she knows," said Sisnett's daughter, Meredith Sisnett. "She was an international teacher of love."
Sisnett enjoyed writing poetry, but she wrote less in recent years because she didn't want to write about her illness. Instead, Byrd said, Sisnett preferred creating visual art. In the last years of her life, her grandchildren provided her with consistent comfort, Hale said.
Sisnett is survived by Hale; two children, Meredith Sisnett, 36, and Ghamal Webb, 31; and two grandchildren. Funeral services are pending.
Byrd described Sisnett as a woman with a regal demeanor who also loved to salsa dance.
"She expected to be treated like a queen — especially the older she got — because she had contributed to her community so greatly," Byrd said.