Sandra Cisneros

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Sandra Cisneros Biography

Sandra Cisneros grew up so poor she says her neighborhood seemed like a war zone. There were broken buildings all around her that looked like they had been bombed. The empty buildings made her feel lonely. She was also very shy. And her family moved a lot, which meant that she never had lasting friendships. She also felt different from her classmates, who didn’t have to struggle to learn a new language and who looked much more like the people Cisneros saw on TV than she did. So she turned to writing to express her emotions. Her first novel, The House on Mango Street, proved successful because it was one of the few that captured Cisneros’ feelings about growing up Latina in the United States. Only when she was able to celebrate her sense of being different did she truly find her voice.

Facts and Trivia

  • Cisneros won the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (often called the “genius award” and worth thousands of dollars) in 1995.
  • For two years, the San Antonio city council objected to the color (purple) that Cisneros painted her house. She didn’t care.
  • Her most recognized work of fiction, The House on Mango Street has sold over two million copies and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. Many schools use the book as required reading.
  • Cisneros lives with six dogs, four cats, and a parrot called Augustina.
  • When asked what makes a story good, Cisneros has answered that stories should make you laugh or cry. And if it is really good, she says, the story should make you do both.


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Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 20, 1954, the only daughter in a family of seven children. Her mother, Elvira Cordero Anguiano, was a self-educated Mexican American who kindled her children’s enthusiasm for reading by taking them to libraries. Her father, Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral, was a Mexican upholsterer who regularly moved the family between Chicago and Mexico City.

In Chicago Catholic schools, where expectations for Mexican American girls were low, Cisneros was a below-average student, but she read voraciously and began writing early. After graduating from Loyola University in Chicago in 1976, she earned a master’s degree at the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she learned “what I didn’t want to be, how I didn’t want to write.”

Upon returning from graduate study to Chicago, she awakened to what she called the “incredible deluge of voices” that has become the hallmark of her writing. Her stories and poems reveal a variety of voices, Mexican American voices mainly, telling their stories in an exuberant mixture of English and Spanish.

Her writing career started slowly. She earned her living as a teacher, college recruiter, arts administrator, writing teacher, and lecturer. Her choice to remain poor in order to write puzzled her father and brothers and often caused her to wonder whether she was betraying her beloved Mexican American culture by choosing a nontraditional life. She wrestled with the problems of how to be a liberated woman and remain a Latina.

Cisneros’s fiction and poetry are widely anthologized, and The House on Mango Street is frequently taught in schools and colleges. Random House issued a one-volume selection from her fiction and poetry, Vintage Cisneros, in 2004. She has won a number of honors, including two National Endowment of the Arts Fellowships for fiction and poetry (1988, 1982), a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1995), and a Texas Medal of the Arts (2003). She has received several grants and guest lectureships, and honorary degrees from Loyola University, Chicago (2002), and the State University of New York at Purchase (1993). Caramelo (2002) was named a notable book of the year in several newspapers, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Chicago Tribune.

Cisneros has a Web site with biographical information and images and links to reviews and interviews. In June, 2003, Cisneros wrote at her Web site, “I currently earn my living by my pen. I live in San Antonio, Texas, in a violet house filled with many creatures, little and large.” In interviews, she reports that in San Antonio she found a rich source of voices for her stories and poems as well as an increasing independence that confirmed her in the choice of a nontraditional life, which she described as being “no one’s mother and nobody’s wife.” Cisneros has come to see a main purpose of her writing as helping people to see their lives more clearly. This help often takes the form of showing that “we can be Latino and still be American.”

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