Biography of Sandra Cisneros (1954-)
Born December 20, 1954 in Chicago, Sandra Cisneros is an American novelist, short-story writer, essayist, and poet. Cisneros is one of the first Hispanic-American writers who has achieved commercial success. She is lauded by literary scholars and critics for works which help bring the perspective of Chicana (Mexican-American) women into the mainstream of literary feminism.
Cisneros received her B.A. from Loyola University in 1976 and her M.F.A from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1978. This workshop marks an important turning point in her career as a writer. Cisneros had periodically written poems and stories while growing up, but it was the frustrations she encountered at the Writer's Workshop that inspired Cisneros' realization that her experiences as a Latina woman were unique and outside the realm of dominant American culture. Thus, Cisneros decided to write about conflicts directly related to her upbringing, including divided cultural loyalties, feelings of alienation, and degradation associated with poverty. These specific cultural and social concerns, coupled with Cisneros' feelings of alienation as a Latina writer, came to life five years later in The House on Mango Street (1983).
In addition to writing, Cisneros has taught at the Latino Youth Alternative High School in Chicago and has been a college recruiter and counselor for minority students at Loyala University of Chicago. She served as literature director for the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, Texas, and was an artist in residence at the Foundation Michael Karolyi in Vence, France. She has been a guest professor at
California State University, University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Irvine, Univerity of Michigan, Ann Arbor and the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. Cisneros is also a member of PEN and Mujeres por la Paz, a women's peace group which helps organize.
Cisneros was the only daughter among seven children, and her brothers attempts to make her assume a traditional female role is reflected in the feminist strains of her writing, glorifying heroines who dream of economic independence and celebrating the "wicked" sexuality of women. The family frequently moved between the United States and Mexico because of her father's homesickness for his native country and his devotion to his mother who lived there. Consequently, Cisneros often felt homeless and displaced. She began to read extensively, finding comfort in such works as Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Today, Cisneros' works give both solace and realistic lessons about feelings which, as a child, she felt were uniquely hers, namely cultural division, loneliness and shame.
A prime example of how Cisneros' writing speak to the experiences of the forgotten or invisible of American society is The House on Mango Street. In this work, widely celebrated by critics, teachers, adults and adolescents alike, Cisneros introduces the reader to Esperanza- a poor, Latina adolescent who longs for a room of her own and a house of which she can be proud. Although Cisneros is noted primarily for her fiction, her poetry has also garnered attention. In My Wicked, Wicked Ways (1987), Cisneros writes about her native Chicago, her travels in Europe, and, as reflected in the title, sexual guilt resulting from her strict Catholic upbringing. A collection of sixty poems, each of which resemble a short story, the work exemplifies one of Cisneros' acclaimed knack for combining and crossing the boundaries of genre.
Cisneros' other works include Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991), and the poetry collections Bad Boys and Loose Woman (1994). She has also written a book for juveniles, Pelitos (1994). Cisneros has also contributed to numerous periodicals, including Imagine, Contact II, Glamour, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice and Revista Chicano-Riquena. These works, short in titles but great in fresh literary ideas and cultural resonance, have garnered Sandra Cisneros wide critical acclaim as well as popular success. By reaching deep into her Chicana-Mexican heritage and articulating sensations of displacement and longing, Sandra Cisneros has created a lasting tribute to those who must conquer similar battles as she, and has thereby left a lasting friend for all who have let their imaginations build a house all their own.