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Sandra Cisneros Biography | Poet

Photo of Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 21, 1954. She the only daughter in a Mexican-American family of seven children. Her father, an upholster moved the family back and forth between Chicago's west side and Mexico for his work. Consequently, Ms. Cisneros felt a strong connection to her Chicago community and Mexican heritage. Despite her conservative upbringing, her mother encouraged Sandra's imagination and encouraged her to read and write. She observed the women in her closely observed and identified with the minority women of her community and this would shape her writing. She is best known for her poem, The House On Mango Street,and a collection of short stories, Women Hollering Creek and Other Stories. Today, Sandra is considered one of the most important contributors to Chicano literature.

Major Achievements

Ms. Cisneros' first and most career-changing poem is The House On Mango Street (1984). Although not autobiographical, it is the story of a young latino woman growing up in working class Chicago. Ms. Cisneros originally set out to write about characters that she explored in college but decided to create stories from the roots she knew so well. The House On Mango Street reflects a young minority female coming of age in working class Chicago.

Other well known poetry collections written by Sandra Cisneros include My Wicked Wicked Ways (1987) and Loose Women (1994). In 1991, Sandra published Woman Hollering Creek and Other Short Stories.

Ms. Cisneros received two fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts. She received the American Book Award, a fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation and the Texas Medal of Arts.

Education and Work

After a primary education in Catholic schools, Sandra received her Bachelor of Arts from Chicago's Loyola University in 1976. She was admitted to the Writers' Workshop, a prestigious program at the University of Iowa, and received her MFA degree in 1978.

Sandra Cisneros began her teaching career working with former high school drop outs. She taught literature and college counseling to minority students in Chicago. In 1982, she received her first of two fellowships from the National Endowment of Arts. She went to Greece, worked and wrote. Before returning the United States in 1984, Sandra studied at the Foundation Michael Karolyi in France. She published The House On Mango Street and went on to publish more poetry and prose. She worked as a Writer-in-Residence at the Universities of California, Berkley, and Michigan and at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas.

Significance as an author

Sandra Cisneros is a major force in Chicano literature. She helped popularize a genre that had not been mainstream. Her work was integrated with English and Spanish and reflected the plight of women and minorities in the United States. At first reading, Ms. Cisneros' poems appear simple but deeper meaning can be found when re-read. Her poems and short stories became required reading for middle school, high school and university students.

In recent years, Ms. Cisneros has lived and worked to unite the literature and arts community in San Antonio, Texas. She works closely with the Macondo Foundation and began the Alfred Cisneros del Moral Foundation named for her father. Both organizations support Chicano writers. Ms. Cisneros currently lives in Mexico. 

Sandra Cisneros Autobiography

I was born in Chicago in 1954, the third child and only daughter in a family of seven children. I studied at Loyola University of Chicago (B.A. English 1976) and the University of Iowa (M.F.A. Creative Writing 1978).

I've worked as a teacher and counselor to high-school dropouts, as an artist-in-the schools where I taught creative writing at every level except first grade and pre-school, a college recruiter, an arts administrator, and as a visiting writer at a number of universities including the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

My books include a chapbook of poetry, Bad Boys (Mango Press 1980); two full-length poetry books, My Wicked Wicked Ways (Third Woman 1987, Random House 1992) and Loose Woman (Alfred A. Knopf 1994); a collection of stories, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (Random House l991); a children's book, Hairs/Pelitos (Alfred A. Knopf 1994); and two novels, The House on Mango Street (Vintage 1991) and Caramelo (Knopf 2002). Vintage Cisneros, published in 2003, is a compilation of selections from my works.

My most recent book, Have You Seen Marie?, a picture book for grown-ups, was published by Knopf in the autumn of 2012.

I'm currently at work on several projects, including a collection of fiction titled Infinito; a children's book, Bravo, Bruno; and a book about writing titled Writing in My Pajamas.

The House on Mango Street, first published in 1984, won the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award in 1985, and is required reading in middle schools, high schools, and universities across the country. It has sold over two million copies since its initial publication and is still selling strongly. 2009 marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of The House on Mango Street in the United States, and I will be traveling to 20 cities to celebrate with my readers. If youíd like to see if a city near you is on my tour, please refer to the scheduled appearances section of this site.

Caramelo was selected as notable book of the year by several journals including 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. It was also nominated for the Orange Prize in England.

Caramelo and The House on Mango Street have been selected for many One-City/One-Read projects in numerous communities including Los Angeles, Miami, Fort Worth, El Paso, and Milwaukee.

Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories was awarded the PEN Center West Award for Best Fiction of l99l, the Quality 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, and nominated Best Book of Fiction for l99l by The Los Angeles Times.

Loose Woman won the Mountains & Plains Booksellers' Award.

In 1995, I was awarded the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and I subsequently organized the Latino MacArthur Fellows — Los MacArturos — into a reunion focusing on community outreach. In 2003 I was awarded the Texas Medal of the Arts. I've received many other honors, including an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Loyola University, Chicago, 2002; an honorary Doctor of Letters from the State University of New York at Purchase, l993; two National Endowment of the Arts Fellowships for fiction and poetry, l988, l982; the Roberta Holloway Lectureship at the University of California, Berkeley, l988; the Chicano Short Story Award from the University of Arizona, l986; the Texas Institute of Letters Dobie-Paisano Fellowship, l984; and an Illinois Artists Grant, l984.

My books have been translated into over a dozen languages, including Spanish, Galician, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, and, most recently, into Greek, Iranian, Thai, and Serbo-Croatian.

I am the president and founder of the Macondo Foundation, an association of socially engaged writers working to advance creativity, foster generosity, and honor our communities; and the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation, a grant-giving institution serving Texas writers. I'm also Writer-in-Residence at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio.

My house is no longer violet because the sun faded it from violet to blue after a few years. We painted it Mexican-pink so it can fade into pink, then built my office in the backyard and painted it Mexican-marigold. The colors make me happy.

I live with many creatures little and large in San Antonio, Texas.

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