Sandra Cisneros 1954-
American novelist, poet, short story writer, and children's writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Cisneros's career through 2003. See also Sandra Cisneros Literary Criticism (Volume 118), Sandra Cisneros Short Story Criticism, Sandra Cisneros Poetry Criticism, and Woman Hollering Creek Criticism.
Cisneros is best known for her prose volume The House on Mango Street (1984), a collection of vignettes based on her experiences growing up in a working-class Latin-American neighborhood of Chicago. Cisneros received the American Book Award and the Before Columbus Foundation Book Award in 1985, both for The House on Mango Street, which was a bestseller and has become a mainstay on the reading lists of college courses in ethnic and gender studies. Through the character of Esperanza, a twelve-year-old Chicana girl and the narrator of The House on Mango Street, Cisneros examines issues of Chicana identity in the bi-cultural context of the Latin-American community. The House on Mango Street is also considered a coming-of-age story, highlighting Esperanza's quest for self-definition and self-empowerment through the creative act of writing. Cisneros is widely recognized for her groundbreaking work, which utilizes experimental forms of prose narrative and challenges traditional gender roles. Her work has been viewed as a vital part of expanding the literary canon to include the Chicana experience. Cisneros was awarded the McArthur Foundation “genius” award in 1995.
Cisneros was born December 20, 1954, in Chicago, Illinois, to a Mexican father and a Chicana mother. The only girl in a family of seven children, she often felt dominated by her brothers and father. Her sense of cultural displacement as a Chicana was in part due to her family's frequent moves between Mexico and the United States. She spent the majority of her childhood living in apartment buildings in the poorer neighborhoods of Chicago's South Side. When she was a teenager, her parents bought a house, a goal they had always dreamed of achieving; but Cisneros regarded the house as ugly and shabby, and nothing like what she had imagined a house should be. As she was growing up, she spoke Spanish with her father and English with her mother, and most of her work is written in English but also contains smatterings of Spanish words and phrases. Cisneros earned a B.A. in English from Loyola University in 1976, and enrolled in the graduate program in creative writing at the renowned University of Iowa Writer's Workshop. While there she developed the idea of the house as a metaphor for Chicana identity. Thinking back on her childhood, she felt that her experiences living in impoverished urban apartment-dwellings in the Latin-American community was unique in comparison to those of her fellow students and professors. As she later related, “the metaphor of a house—a house, a house, it hit me. What did I know except third-floor flats. Surely my classmates knew nothing about that. That's precisely what I chose to write: about third-floor flats, and fear of rats, and drunk husbands sending rocks through windows.” This idea formed the seed of what was to become The House on Mango Street. After earning an M.F.A. in creative writing in 1978, Cisneros returned to Chicago, where she taught at the Latino Youth Alternative High School. Her first poetry collection, a chapbook entitled Bad Boys, was published in 1980. In 1981, she began working as a college recruiter and counselor for minority students at Loyola. She received a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1982, allowing her to serve for one year as artist-in-residence at the Michael Karolyi institute in Vence, France. Upon returning to the United States, Cisneros worked as the literature director of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, Texas. With the success of The House on Mango Street, she began a series of guest professorships at universities throughout the United States,...
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