Last Updated January 9, 2023.
The author begins by describing a photograph of herself taken when she was living in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago in 1980, at the time when she was writing The House on Mango Street. She is in an office which she has filled with bookcases, birdcages, wicker baskets, photographs, and numerous other objects which she often buys at a nearby flea market. She enjoys being alone in this room, where she can be quiet and think. When she moved back to Chicago after graduate school, she told her father that she wanted to live alone. He reluctantly agreed, though he cannot understand why she chooses to live in such a cold, uncomfortable house instead of in the family home. Every week, he asks her when she is coming back. Her mother, however, understands her desire to live an independent life and thinks it is lucky that she was a good student so she can now do what she wants.
The young woman in the photograph wants to be a writer but knows little of the craft of writing or how writers live. She has not yet read Virginia Woolf and thinks of herself primarily as a poet. She is writing a series of vignettes alongside her poems and has already thought of the title: The House on Mango Street. However, she does not think of it as a novel and has never heard of story cycles. She has been influenced by Kawabata and García Márquez and Borges, and she wants to write stories that ignore borders between genres and countries. She wants her stories to be beautiful and to be understood by everyone, including those who do not usually read books.
The woman is part of a community of writers. They have published an anthology of their work, called Emergency Tacos because they gather at a twenty-four-hour taquería on Belmont Avenue. During the day, she teaches at a school in Pilsen, on the South Side of Chicago. Her students have difficult lives, enduring poverty and violence, and this makes her realize how privileged her own existence has been. It also leads her sometimes to question the value of art, as she wonders what impact literature can have on the lives of these students.
One Saturday evening, the woman in the photograph attends a literary soiree, where she feels ill at ease among more successful and established writers. She meets a famous writer, who offers her a lift home in his sports car. Instead of returning home, however, she goes to the cinema and watches Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by herself. When she returns to her apartment, she bursts into tears. This is a regular occurrence, as she confronts her many fears in solitude.
All the time these events are going on, the woman in the photograph is writing, experimenting with her stories and rearranging elements of real life to create complete and satisfying narratives. She borrows events and characters and phrases but not emotions, since all the emotions in the stories are her own. She is unsure of her own voice and often censors herself. One of her first publishers, Norma Alarcón, brings together an influential group of female Latin American writers and introduces her to the work of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Elena Poniatowska, and others. The author moves to San Antonio, returns to Chicago again, leaves, and returns. Although she no longer lives in Chicago, she still feels that she has Chicago stories left to write.
Eventually, the author bought her first home and painted it a Mexican pink. In the backyard, she built an...
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office, in which she is writing these words. She is near the San Antonio River, on and near which there is a plethora of wildlife: “ducks, raccoons, possums, skunks, buzzards, butterflies, hawks, turtles, snakes, owls, even though we’re walking distance to downtown.” On October 24, 2007, her mother comes to visit, even though she does not like to leave home anymore. They sit on the rooftop and drink wine as the sun sets. They watch the moon rise together, and the author says that she will never be able to see a full moon again without thinking of her mother, who died a week later, on November 1. This introduction is dedicated to her, while the book as a whole is dedicatedA las Mujeres, To the Women.