One Book, One Chicago Spring 2009
Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago in 1954, the only daughter in a family of seven children. The Cisneros family traveled frequently between Chicago and Mexico to visit relatives, often settling in a different home upon each return. The family resided for the majority of Sandra’s youth in the Humboldt Park neighborhood.
Growing up in a home where library cards were mandatory, Sandra retreated into books and began to express herself in poetry. It was in high school, at St. Josephinum in Chicago, that Cisneros first found an outlet and discovered acceptance for her creativity. Encouraged by a teacher, Cisneros wrote poetry and became willing to share her work with her young peers. She worked on a high school literary magazine, eventually becoming editor. Cisneros went on to study English at Loyola University of Chicago, and in 1978 received her M.F.A. in creative writing from the renowned University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Upon graduating from the Writers’ Workshop, Cisneros returned to Chicago and took a job teaching at the Latino Youth Alternative High School, a facility for high school dropouts. In her free time she wrote and submitted poems to literary journals with some success. She read her poems to club and coffee shop audiences, gradually earning a local reputation.
In 1982, Cisneros received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. With the award money she went to Europe, where she wrote The House on Mango Street. Drawing on the rootlessness of her childhood, the book created a vibrant picture of one girl’s idealization of “home.” (The house from the title is a composite of the author’s many homes, but is placed on a street, Mango Street, where the Cisneros family never actually lived.) Published in 1984, the book gained international acclaim, winning Cisneros the American Book Award. Today, The House on Mango Street is required reading in schools throughout the United States.
In 1985 came the publication of Antojitos (Arte Publico) and The Rodrigo Poems (Third Woman). In 1987 Cisneros’ master’s thesis, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, was revised and expanded, then published by Third Woman Press. This collection of poems touches upon a mélange of topics—among them female emancipation, friendship and self-identity.
With her book Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991), Cisneros became the first Chicana author to sign with a major American publisher, Random House. Depicting the lives of Chicana women in the San Antonio area, the book garnered both critical and popular acclaim and earned the author the financial stability she would need to be a full-time writer.
Cisneros’ long-awaited second novel, Caramelo (Knopf, 2002), fictionalized the author’s family, highlighting a trip between Chicago and Mexico and the main character’s conversion from child to young adult. Caramelo was selected as notable book of the year by The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune and the Seattle Times. In 2005 Caramelo was awarded the Premio Napoli and was short listed for the Dublin International IMPAC Award.
Sandra Cisneros’ books have been translated into over a dozen languages, including Spanish, Galician, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Greek, Thai and Serbo-Croatian. Cisneros has been visiting writer at a number of universities, including the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and is currently writer-in-residence at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. Cisneros’ daring and original works have won her numerous awards and fellowships including, in 1995, the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. She is the president and founder of the Macondo Foundation, an association of writers dedicated to social involvement. She also directs the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation, granting funds to Texas writers.
Sandra Cisneros continues to write poetry and prose and is working on a collection of fiction titled Infinito, a children’s book titled Bravo, Bruno and a book about writing that she will call Writing in My Pajamas.
- “About Sandra Cisneros.” 2008. www.sandracisneros.com
- “Sandra Cisneros.” Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003.
- “Sandra Cisneros.” Authors and Artists for Young Adults. Gale, 2003.
- “Sandra Cisneros.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2nd ed. Gale Research, 1998.
- “Sandra Cisneros.” Contemporary Hispanic Biography. Gale, 2002.
- “Sandra Cisneros.” Notable Hispanic American Women. Gale, 1993.