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. 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.


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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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...

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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 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.


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