Sandra Cisneros Biography

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. Most middle schools, high schools, and colleges 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.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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....

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Sandra Cisneros Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

While Cisneros’s themes often concern race, gender, and class, her stories and poems are not narrowly political. Rather than focusing on specific social problems and their remedies, Cisneros tries to be part of a more general solution, calling attention through lively and entertaining stories to how life is experienced, especially by Mexican American women. In Caramelo, she emphasizes family as a model for humanity, and storytelling as the central means by which universal human interdependence and connectedness become visible. In her stories, she works at changing the ways her readers look at their worlds, helping them to imagine better ways to live. In these ways, her work is related to that of major local color writers of the nineteenth century, such as Sarah Orne Jewett.

Sandra Cisneros Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Sandra Cisneros was born in 1954 into a working-class family in Chicago, Illinois. With a Mexican American mother, a Mexican father, and six brothers, she described her circumstances as being similar to having seven fathers. Because of close familial and cultural ties with Mexico, the Cisneros family moved back and forth between a series of cramped apartments in Chicago and the paternal grandmother’s home in Mexico City. The concept of home or the lack of one would later weigh heavily in Cisneros’s writing. The combination of an uprooted lifestyle and an ever-changing circle of friends, schools, and neighborhoods, as well as the isolation that resulted from her brothers’ unwillingness to let a girl join in their play, led Cisneros to turn inward to a life of books. That time spent alone allowed an observant, creative voice to take root in the author.

Cisneros considered her career as a professional writer to have begun in 1974—the year in which she enrolled in a writing class as a junior at Loyola University of Chicago, where she would later receive her bachelor of arts degree in English. It was her tenure at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, from which she took a master of fine arts degree, however, that proved an invaluable aid in the formation of her own literary voice. During a discussion of Gaston Bachelard’s La Bétique de l’espace (1957; The Poetics of Space, 1964), in which her classmates spoke of the...

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Sandra Cisneros Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Sandra Cisneros had a library card before she could read. Her mother insisted that Sandra and her six brothers know books, although the family was too poor to buy them. Her father was Mexican, her mother American-born. Cisneros spoke Spanish with her father and English outside the home and always identified herself as American. Her family moved frequently, and as a result she was shy, turning inward and to books. Not a distinguished student in schools where little was expected of Chicanas, she read voraciously, and she began to write when she was ten. After being graduated from Loyola University in Chicago, she enrolled at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she completed her master of fine arts in 1978.

At the writers’ workshop she experienced an identity crisis that led to her finding her voice. She found this voice in her childhood and in the stories that became The House on Mango Street. This book is based on memories of her life after her family settled into their first house, a time important to her identity, because she then began to observe critically the kinds of feminine identity her culture offered. Cisneros found a voice by creating the voice of Esperanza (hope).

The success of The House on Mango Street led to Cisneros’ teaching writing, to international lectures, and to awards and grants, including a writing grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. In most of her work, a woman’s struggle for self-determination is a central theme. Obstacles include confining Mexican American traditions of feminine identity and the racism and sexism that confront a Chicana in a white-dominated society. Although Cisneros takes this struggle seriously and some of her pieces are deeply bitter, the overall tone of her work is exuberant, as reflected in the longest poem title in Loose Woman: “I Am So Depressed I Feel Like Jumping in the River Behind My House but Won’t Because I’m Thirty-Eight and Not Eighteen.”

Sandra Cisneros Biography

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Sandra Cisneros was born December 20, 1954, in Chicago, to a Mexican father and a Mexican American mother. The only daughter in a family of seven children, she grew up speaking both English and Spanish. Her family frequently traveled to Mexico for extended visits with her paternal grandparents. Although her grandparents were wealthy, Cisneros’s immediate family was very poor, living in small, rundown apartments in poverty-stricken neighborhoods of Chicago. She received her early education in Roman Catholic schools, but her talents and intelligence were not reflected in the grades on her early report cards.

In 1966, when Cisneros was twelve, her family purchased a house. Though the house was small and unimpressive, Cisneros had her own room, affording her privacy to read. Cisneros’s mother, a voracious reader herself, exempted her from domestic responsibilities so that she would have time to read. One of Cisnero’s favorite childhood books was The Little House (1942), by Virginia Lee Burton.

In high school, Cisneros began writing and decided to major in English in college. She attended Loyola University in Chicago, where her father expected her to find a husband. As a junior, in 1974, she enrolled in her first writing workshop. In 1976, she began work at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Though she received an M.F.A. in creative writing in 1978, she was not happy during her time at the Iowa workshop. As a Mexican...

(The entire section is 512 words.)

Sandra Cisneros Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago on December 20, 1954, to upholsterer Alfredo Cisneros, a man she would later describe as both hardworking and generous, and Elvira Cordero Cisneros, one of Sandra’s primary sources of encouragement and nurturing. As the third child and only daughter in a family of seven children, she found that her mother and the rest of her family had very different ideas about what kind of woman she should be, whether independent or traditional. Trying to please both of her parents required Cisneros to stay modest and shy as a child while seeking literary ways of expressing herself. Writing down her thoughts and feelings led naturally to her position as editor of her high school’s literary magazine, but such writing alone could not fulfill her dreams of escaping the restrictions of her youth.

After she finished high school, Cisneros decided to study at Loyola University of Chicago; she graduated from the university with a bachelor of arts degree in English in 1976. Guided by her goal of becoming a teacher of creative writing, Cisneros then pursued a master of fine arts degree in creative writing at the University of Iowa. During a session at the university’s Iowa Writers’ Workshop, when the class was discussing the metaphor of a house in philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s La Poétique de l’espace (1957; The Poetics of Space, 1964), Cisneros was struck by how different she was from her privileged classmates. Aside from the fact that she was the only Latina in the group, Cisneros found that her experiences were distinctly outside the constraints of the dominant American culture. She then saw her destiny clearly—to write texts that celebrate what it means to be a Chicana, a Latina, and a southwestern woman.

Cisneros graduated from the University of Iowa with an M.F.A. in 1978. Bad Boys, a chapbook of poetry, quickly followed her emergence. She received a National Endowment of the Arts grant in 1982, which allowed her time to write more extensively, and her seminal work, The House on Mango Street, was published in 1984 to literary acclaim; the book has sold more than two million copies since then. Her second work of long fiction, the novel Caramelo, published in 2002, would also follow the same theme of finding oneself in the context of one’s heritage.

Sandra Cisneros Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sandra Cisneros (sihz-NAY-rohs) was born in Chicago in 1954 to a Mexican father and a Mexican American mother. She grew up in a working-class family with six brothers; her family expected her to follow the traditional female role. Her lonely childhood growing up with six males and the family’s constant moving contributed to her becoming a writer. The family moved frequently—from house to house and from Chicago to Mexico City—which caused constant upheavals. She felt trapped between the American and the Mexican cultures, not belonging in either one. Understandably, Cisneros withdrew into a world of books. The family finally settled down in a Puerto Rican neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. This setting provided Cisneros...

(The entire section is 877 words.)

Sandra Cisneros Biography

(Novels for Students)

The experiences of Esperanza, the adolescent protagonist of The House on Mango Street, closely resemble those of Sandra Cisneros's...

(The entire section is 571 words.)

Sandra Cisneros Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Born in Chicago in 1954, Sandra Cisneros grew up with her Mexican father, Mexican-American mother, and six brothers. Her family moved back...

(The entire section is 304 words.)

Sandra Cisneros Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Sandra Cisneros was born on December 20, 1954, in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of a Mexican father and Mexican-American mother. She was...

(The entire section is 332 words.)

Sandra Cisneros Biography

(Poetry for Students)

Sandra Cisneros was born December 20, 1954, in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of a Mexican father and Mexican American mother. She was the...

(The entire section is 400 words.)