Sandra Cisneros is an activist, poet, short story writer, novelist, essayist and artist who wrote the bestselling novel “The House on Mango Street.” It has sold over six million copies, has been translated into more than twenty languages, and is required reading in elementary, high school, and university curricula across the U.S. Cisneros has received numerous awards for her work, including the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the Texas Medal of the Arts.
Sandra Cisneros was born on December 20, 1954, in Chicago, Illinois. One of seven children and the only daughter, she has written extensively about the Latina experience in the United States. She moved frequently during her childhood and visited family in Mexico often.
“Because we moved so much, and always in neighborhoods that appeared like France after World War II–empty lots and burned-out-buildings–I retreated inside myself”
Cisneros found an outlet in writing; in high school, she wrote poetry and was the literary magazine editor. Cisneros studied at Loyola University of Chicago (B.A. English, 1976) and the University of Iowa (M.F.A. Creative Writing, 1978). Most of Cisneros’ classmates at Iowa were people from more materially privileged backgrounds and descendants of European immigrants to the U.S. Initially, Cisneros attempted to use their kinds of subjects, characters, and settings in her own writing. Unhappy with the results, she then made an important decision: she decided to “rebel” by writing about the neighborhoods in which she had grown up, the people who were her relatives and friends and neighbors. The House on Mango Street was begun. Cisneros did not complete the book for several years, however; meanwhile, she taught high school and served as a college recruiter and minority student counselor. In 1982-83, after winning a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, Cisneros went to Greece to work on her fiction. After serving as artist-in-residence at Foundation Michael Karolyi in Vence, France, she returned to the U.S. and, in 1984, found a publisher for Mango Street: The University of Houston’s Arte Público Press.
Years later, she wrote her first well received book of poetry, My Wicked, Wicked Ways. She also met her literary agent, Susan Bergholz, who after seeing a small packet of short stories encouraged Cisneros to develop them into what was to become Woman Hollering Creek (1991). This collection won the PEN Center West Award for Best Fiction of 1991, the Qualitiy Paperback Book Club New Voices Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Lannan Foundation Literary Award, and was selected as a noteworthy book of the year by The New York Times and the American Library Journal. In 1995, Cisneros won the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship; one hour after winning the $225,000 grant, she was back in San Antonio–where she has made her home in this decade–lecturing to students at a local arts center.
In September 2016, President Barack Obama presented Cisneros with a National Medal of Arts. At the ceremony, President Obama said Cisneros was being honored “for enriching the American narrative. Through her novels, short stories, and poetry, she explores issues of race, class, and gender through the lives of ordinary people straddling multiple cultures. As an educator, she has deepened our understanding of American identity.”
Read more at sandracisneros.com