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Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros’ novels, essays, poetry, and social work have made her a key figure in feminist and Chicana literature. Her debut novel, The House on Mango Street (1984), is required reading in schools across the country and was one of the first works by a Chicana author to receive widespread acclaim.

Sandra Cisneros: Biography

Sandra Cisneros' life experiences as a Chicana woman have greatly influenced her work as a writer.

Early life

Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago on December 20, 1954. Her father, Alfredo Cisneros de Moral, was a Mexican man who came to the United States in his youth and eventually settled into a career as an upholsterer. Cisneros’ mother, Elvira Cordero Anguiano, was Mexican-American and the only female role model for her young daughter.

Sandra Cisneros, Chicago StudySmarterSandra Cisneros was born in Chicago. Pixabay.

Cisneros grew up in a large family; she was the third of seven children and the only daughter. Surrounded by brothers, Cisneros often felt isolated. Her family moved back and forth throughout her childhood between the United States and Mexico, further contributing to her feelings of isolation and uprootedness. From an early age, Cisneros combated this isolation by taking refuge in books.

When Cisneros was eleven years old, her family finally purchased their own home in Chicago, in the predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood of Humboldt Park, and Cisneros attended high school at the nearby Josephinum Academy.

The family’s Humboldt Park home would later become the inspiration for Cisneros’ first novel, The House on Mango Street (1984).

Josephinum Academy was an all-girls Catholic school, and this was where Cisneros began to write. One of her teachers was particularly supportive and encouraged Cisneros’ early attempts at poetry.

University

After high school, Cisneros attended Loyola University in Chicago and later earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.

During her time in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Cisneros began to discover her own unique voice as a writer. As a Chicana woman who had grown up in poverty, Cisneros’ life experiences were much different from those of her generally more affluent classmates. For a long time, Cisneros had been ashamed of these differences, but she realized that she could use the experiences related to her class, race, and gender to explore topics that were too often marginalized.

In 1978, Cisneros graduated from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and began to work as a teacher. Back in Chicago, Cisneros taught at the Latino Youth Alternative High School, a charter school for high school drop-outs, and continued writing on the side.

Literary career

In 1981, Cisneros was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She used the money to go to Europe, where she completed the manuscript for her first novel, The House on Mango Street.

The House on Mango Street was published in 1984. The novel, which drew on Cisneros’ childhood in Chicago, was immediately successful. The House on Mango Street became an instant classic of Chicana literature and continues to be read in middle schools, high schools, and universities across the country.

In 1987, Cisneros’ first collection of poetry was published, My Wicked, Wicked Ways. Despite the success of her budding literary career, Cisneros still struggled to make ends meet. She continued to work as a teacher and arts administrator until she was awarded a second National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. This fellowship allowed Cisneros to complete the short story collection Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991).

Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories was published by Random House, making Cisneros the first Chicana writer to be picked up by a major publishing house. This helped bring her work into the mainstream and resulted in more national recognition.

In 1995, Cisneros was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, which enabled her to make writing her full-time occupation.

After winning the MacArthur Fellowship, Cisneros realized a lifelong dream of living in her own home. The author purchased a house in a historic part of San Antonio, Texas, but she sparked local controversy when she painted the house purple! The city’s Historic and Design Review Commission felt that the color was not historically appropriate. In contrast, Cisneros argued the opposite, adding that the color symbolized her Mexican pride. The community was split over the disagreement, but so many people had an opinion on the matter that Cisneros eventually attached a clipboard to her gate for passersby to leave comments.

That same year, Cisneros founded the Macondo Writers Workshop, an association of writers who prioritize social responsibility and activism in their work. The Macondo Foundation hosts an annual event and awards and grants to applicable writers.

In 1999, Cisneros furthered her community outreach activities by starting the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation. The foundation, named for her father, supports the work of writers from, living in, or writing about Texas.

Sandra Cisneros, San Miguel de Allende, StudySmarterSandra Cisneros lives in San Miguel de Allende. Pixabay.

Sandra Cisneros continues to write. She is a citizen of the United States and Mexico, and she lives in San Miguel de Allende, in central Mexico.

Sandra Cisneros: Books

Sandra Cisneros is well-known for her books, poems, and essays.

Novels

  • The House on Mango Street (1984) is Cisneros’ debut novel and remains her best-known work. Comprised of forty-four short vignettes, The House on Mango Street is narrated by Esperanza, a twelve-year-old Chicana girl living in Chicago. The vignettes stretch over a year-long period as Esperanza begins her transition from childhood to adolescence. Much of the novel was inspired by Cisneros’ own childhood growing up in a Hispanic neighborhood of Chicago. The House on Mango Street recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and is considered a modern classic of American and Chicana literature.
  • Cisneros’ other works of fiction are the novel Carmelo (2002), the illustrated story for adults Have You Seen Marie? (2012), the bilingual chapbook, Puro Amor (2018), the bilingual novela Martita, I Remember You/Martita, te recuerdo (2021). She has also published a few books for children, including Hairs/Pelitos (1994), and the Italian Bravo, Bruno (2011).

Short stories

  • Sandra Cisneros’ short story collection Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991) was her first book published by a major publishing house, bringing her more notoriety and financial success. The collection is divided into three parts, focusing on childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. The stories center Chicana women, unpacking stereotypes and gendered expectations that sometimes clash and compete in the intersection between Mexican and American culture.

Essays

  • A House of My Own (2015) is Sandra Cisneros’ collection of personal essays. As a child growing up in a large family, Cisneros wished for her own house, a quiet refuge where she could read and write to her heart’s content. In this collection, Cisneros muses about the various places she has called home, significant moments in her life, and the artists and individuals who have inspired her work.

Sandra Cisneros: Poems

Like her novels, Cisneros’ poetry navigates themes including Chicana identity, sexuality and femininity, and the lives of working-class women. The poetry collection My Wicked, Wicked Ways (1987) was Cisneros’ second published work. Her other full-length poetry collection is called Loose Woman: Poems (1994). Cisneros also has a poetry chapbook titled Bad Boys (1980).

Sandra Cisneros: Key Themes and Quotes

There are many reoccurring themes in Sandra Cisneros’ work, including the construction of Chicana identity, bilingualism and biculturalism, and femininity and female sexuality.

Chicana identity

When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are. -The House on Mango Street (The Three Sisters)

Chicana characters feature prominently in nearly all of Sandra Cisneros’ work. Her protagonists, for example, Esperanza, from The House on Mango Street, are reflections of Cisneros’ own experiences as a Chicana woman and the experiences of the women around her: her friends, family, and neighbors. Much of her work explores the expectations that both Mexican and American culture place on women and how Chicana identity is constructed in relation to these gender roles.

Bilingualism and biculturalism

Make love to me in Spanish.

Not with that other tongue.

I want you juntito a mí,

tender like the language

crooned to babies.

I want to be that

lullabied, mi bien

querido, that loved.

-Loose Woman (“Dulzura”)

Much of Sandra Cisneros work explores the borderlands of biculturalism and bilingualism. Growing up and traveling between Mexico and the United States, Cisneros often felt that she didn’t belong in either culture. Biculturalism is an essential part of Chicana identity, and Cisneros often explores how Mexican and American cultures combine and collide in her characters.

An important part of this is the use of the Spanish language in her work. Cisneros incorporates Spanish into her poems and novels, but she also plays with the relationship between the two languages, to create something new. For example, she uses Spanish sayings translated into English or phrasing or sentence structures that might be common to Spanish but unusual in English.

Sexuality and Femininity

I’ll never marry. Not any man. I’ve known men too intimately. I’ve witnessed their infidelities, and I’ve helped them to it. Unzipped and unhooked and agreed to clandestine maneuvers. I’ve been accomplice, committed premeditated crimes. I’m guilty of having caused deliberate pain to other women. I’m vindictive and cruel, and I’m capable of anything. -Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (“Never Marry a Mexican”)

Sexuality and femininity play an important role in Cisneros’ exploration of Chicana identity. Nearly all of Cisneros’ work centers around female characters who exist in a world where men define femininity and female sexuality. She explores how Chicana women navigate the expectations of traditional gender roles, how they break free from them and take charge of their own sexuality, or how they become disillusioned and broken down by the limits of a patriarchal society.

Sandra Cisneros: Awards and Achievements

  • Sandra Cisneros has received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, in 1981 and 1988
  • The House on Mango Street was awarded the 1985 Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award.
  • Cisneros’ short story collection Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories won several awards, including the 1991 PEN Center West Award for Best Fiction.
  • Cisneros was awarded honorary degrees from several universities, including the State University of New York at Purchase (1993) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2014).
  • Cisneros was a 1995 MacArthur Fellow.
  • In 2017, Cisneros was awarded one of twenty-five Ford Foundation Art of Change fellowships.

Sandra Cisneros - Key Takeaways

  • Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago on December 20, 1954.
  • As a child, Cisneros was the only daughter out of seven children, and her family frequently moved between the United States and Mexico.
  • Sandra Cisneros’ debut novel and best-known work, The House on Mango Street, was published in 1984.
  • Sandra Cisneros is also the author of short stories, essays, poetry, and children’s books.
  • Sandra Cisneros has received many awards and recognitions for her work, and she is a key figure in modern Chicana literature.

Frequently Asked Questions about Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros is interested in art, culture, and literature. She remains an avid reader and has established two different foundations to support aspiring writers.

Sandra Cisneros is a Chicana author known for her novels, short stories, and poetry.

Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago. Her family traveled back and forth between Mexico and the United States for much of her childhood, but when she turned 11, they purchased a house in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Sandra Cisneros was a shy, quiet child who often felt isolated in her large family. She was the only daughter out of seven children, and her family frequently traveled between the United States and Mexico. From an early age, Cisneros took refuge in books, and, once she began high school, a teacher encouraged her to write.

Sandra Cisneros has written twelve books, including novels, collections of short stories, poetry, and essays, and a few children’s books.

Final Sandra Cisneros Quiz

Question

Where was Sandra Cisneros born?

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Chicago, Illinois

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What university did Sandra Cisneros attend for her graduate studies?

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The University of Iowa

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Which is NOT an important theme in Sandra Cisneros’ work?

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Mortality

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How many brothers did Sandra Cisneros have?

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Six

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In which Chicago neighborhood did Sandra Cisneros’ family live?


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Humboldt Park

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Where does Sandra Cisneros live currently?


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San Miguel de Allende, in central Mexico.

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What controversial color did Sandra Cisneros paint her home in San Antonio?


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Purple

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What two languages appear in Sandra Cisneros’ books?


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English and Spanish

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What kinds of writers does the Macondo Foundation support?


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Writers who prioritize activism and social responsibility in their work.

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Where did Sandra Cisneros work after graduating from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop?


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Latino Youth Alternative High School

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How many fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts has Sandra Cisneros received?

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Two

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What is the name of Sandra Cisneros’ essay collection?

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A House of My Own

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Into how many parts is Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories divided?

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Three

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What inspired The House on Mango Street

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The House on Mango Street was inspired by Cisneros’ own childhood.

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What year was Sandra Cisneros awarded the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship?

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1995

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Who wrote The House on Mango Street?

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Sandra Cisneros

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What span of time does The House on Mango Street cover?

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Approximately one year

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Who is the protagonist of The House on Mango Street?

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Esperanza

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What are the short chapters that make up The House on Mango Street called?

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Vignettes

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Who did Sandra Cisneros see as the audience for The House on Mango Street?

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Everyone, including working-class people like the characters in the book.

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Which is NOT a key symbol in The House on Mango Street?

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Mangos

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Which is NOT a key theme in The House on Mango Street?

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Home construction

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In which city does The House on Mango Street take place?

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Chicago

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True or false? The House on Mango Street was inspired by Sandra Cisneros' own childhood and contains some autobiographical elements.

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True

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What do windows symbolize in The House on Mango Street?

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Windows symbolize the trapped nature of the women in The House on Mango Street.

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How many siblings does Esperanza have?

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Three

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What trauma does Esperanza experience at the end of The House on Mango Street?

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She is raped by a group of men

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When was The House on Mango Street published?

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1984

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How does Esperanza feel about the Mango Street house?

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The house doesn't meet Esperanza's expectations, and she continues dreaming of having a "real" house.

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What role are women expected to play in The House on Mango Street?

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Women are expected to stay at home, care for their families, and obey their husbands.


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