Who is Sandra Cisneros?

Sandra Cisneros

(1954-)

A pioneer in Chicana. literature, Sandra Cisneros draws upon haer unique experiences as a poor Mexican American woman who grew up in two countries. Born in Chicago to a working-class Mexican father and Mexican American (Chicana) mother, she grew up the only daughter in a family with six sons. Her father was frequently homesick for Mexico.

He would move the family back and forth between Mexico City and Chicago, which prevented Cisneros from making lasting friendships while growing up. Cisneros was able to find an outlet in her solitude. She relied upon reading, writing, and her own imagination for creative expression. In high school, she became the editor of her school’s literary magazine.

After she earned her bachelor’s degree from Loyola University in Chicago in 1976, she enrolled at the presti¬ gious University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she earned her master’s degree in fine arts in 1978. While at the University of Iowa, Cisneros realized that her experi¬ ences as a Mexican American woman growing up in poverty provided her with the kind of material that set her writing apart from that of her peers.

In 1984, Cisneros published The House on Mango Street. The book is a collection of loosely connected stories told by Esperanza Cordero, a Mexican American girl growing up in a Chicago barrio. Like the author, the narrator struggles with internal conflicts of loneliness, poverty, and alienation. It is Cisneros’s best-known work, and it drew praise for its poetic lan¬ guage and fresh perspective on the lives of poor Mexican American women.

Although Cisneros has received critical acclaim for her work, at times she has struggled to earn a living as a writer. After she published her first book of poetry, My Wicked Wicked Ways, in 1987, she ran out of money and could not find work. She tried to start her own private writing workshops, but the venture was unsuccessful. She then moved from Texas and took a job teaching at California State University, Chico.

Since then, Cisneros has written other books of prose and poetry. In 1991, she pub¬ lished Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories, a collection of short stories about strong Mexican American women living along the Texas-Mexico border. The contract she received from Random House made her the first Mexican American woman to receive a major publishing contract for a work about Chicanas.

In addition to teaching at Cal State Chico, Cisneros has taught at other universities, including the University of California at Berkeley, University of California at Irvine, and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.