Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros is a Chicana-Latina novelist, short story writer, poet and essayist. She was born on December 20 1954 in Chicago to a Mexican-American mother and a Mexican father. Cisneros had six brothers who attempted to control her and expected her to assume a traditional female role.

Cisneros's family frequently moved between Mexico and the United States because of her father's homesickness for his native country and his devotion to his mother who lived there. As a result, Cisneros often felt homeless and displaced. She began to read extensively and found comfort in such works as Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, Cisneros periodically wrote stories and poems.

Cisneros received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Loyola University in Chicago in 1976. She found her literary voice while studying for her Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Iowa at the end of the 1970s. Cisneros attended a Writers Workshop at the university and during a discussion of Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space and the French philosopher's metaphor of a house she realized that her experiences as a Hispanic woman were unique and were not in the realm of dominant American culture. Shortly after the Workshop she decided to write about conflicts directly related to her upbringing, such as divided cultural loyalties, feelings of alienation and degradation related to poverty.

Cisneros accommodated these concerns in her first novel The House on Mango Street, which took almost five years to complete and was published in 1983. The book's main character Esperanza is a poor, Hispanic adolescent longing for a room of her own and a house of which she can be proud. Esperanza ponders issues such as choosing marriage over education, the importance of writing as an emotional release and the sense of confusion when growing up. For example, in the story "Hips", she agonizes over the repercussions of her body's physical changes.

The Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska translated the book into Spanish while it was also translated into over a dozen other languages. The series of vignettes that comprised the book were praised for their lyrical narratives, vivid dialogue and powerful descriptions. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, The House on Mango Street was required reading in secondary schools across the United States as well as in college and university courses.

Woman Hollering Creek and Other stories was published in 1991 and was designated as notable book of the year by the New York Times. It is a collection of twenty-two narratives that revolve around a number of Mexican-American characters living near San Antonio, Texas. The stories contain the interior monologues of individuals who have been assimilated into American culture in spite of their sense of loyalty to Mexico. For example, in "Never Marry a Mexican", a young Hispanic woman starts feeling contempt for her lover as she begins to feel inadequate and guilty because of her inability to speak Spanish.

The characters in the short stories have been described as idiosyncratic, accessible individuals capable of generation compassion on a universal level. In the collection Cisneros also addresses important issues associated with minority status.

Cisneros is noted primarily for her fiction, but her poetry has also attracted attention. My Wicked Wicked Ways was Cisneros's third volume of verse and consisted of sixty poems, each resembling a short story. In these poems she wrote about her native Chicago, her travels in Europe and her sexual guilt which was a result of her strict Catholic upbringing. The collection of poems further showed her penchant for merging various genres.

Her novel Caramelo; or, Puro Cuento was published in 2002 and was also designated as book of the year by the New York Times and has been translated into Spanish and many other languages. Cisneros's poetry, as in all her works, incorporates Hispanic dialect, impressionistic metaphors, as well as social commentary in ways revealing the fears and doubts unique to Hispanic women. She draws heavily upon her childhood experience and ethnic heritage and creates characters who are distinctly Hispanic and often isolated from mainstream American culture. Cisneros emphasizes dialogue and sensory image over traditional narrative structures.

Cisneros has received numerous honors such as National Endowment for the Arts fellowship for poetry in 1982 and fiction in 1988 and the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1995. Cisneros founded the Macondo Writing Workshop in 1995 and Los Macarturos, which is a collective of Latino/a MacArthur Fellows, in 1997.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Sandra Cisneros: Border Crossings and Beyond
Ganz, Robin.
MELUS, Vol. 19, No. 1, Spring 1994
Latino Literature in America
Bridget Kevane.
Greenwood Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "The Fiction of Sandra Cisneros: The House on Mango Street (1984) and Woman Hollering Creek (1991)"
Popular Contemporary Writers
Michael D. Sharp.
Marshall Cavendish Reference, vol.3, 2006
Librarian’s tip: "Sandra Cisneros" begins on p. 363
U.S. Latino Literature: A Critical Guide for Students and Teachers
Harold Augenbraum; Margarite Fernández Olmos.
Greenwood Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Female Voices in Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street"
Narratives of Greater Mexico: Essays on Chicano Literary History, Genre, and Borders
Héctor Calderón.
University of Texas Press, 2004
Librarian’s tip: "Sandra Cisneros's Feminist Border Stories" begins on p. 167
Women in Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender
Jerilyn Fisher; Ellen S. Silber.
Greenwood Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: "Girls and Women in Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street (1984)" begins on p 141
"What Is Called Heaven": Identity in Sandra Cisneros's 'Woman Hollering Creek.'
Thomson, Jeff.
Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 31, No. 3, Summer 1994
Narrative Coyotes: Migration and Narrative Voice in Sandra Cisneros's Caramelo
Alumbaugh, Heather.
MELUS, Vol. 35, No. 1, Spring 2010
The Politics of Faith in the Work of Lorna Dee Cervantes, Ana Castillo, and Sandra Cisneros
Pagan, Darlene.
Ethnic Studies Review, Vol. 26, No. 1, April 3, 2003
The Immigrant Experience in North American Literature: Carving out a Niche
Katherine B. Payant; Toby Rose.
Greenwood Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Borderland Themes in Sandra Cisneros's Woman Hollering Creek"
Sandra Cisneros's Modern Malinche: A Reconsideration of Feminine Archetypes in Woman Hollering Creek
Fitts, Alexandra.
International Fiction Review, Vol. 29, No. 1-2, January 2002
A Reader's Companion to the Short Story in English
Erin Fallon; R. C. Feddersen; James Kurtzleben; Maurice A. Lee; Susan Rochette-Crawley.
Greenwood Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: "Sandra Cisneros" begins on p. 105
Gritos Desde la Frontera: Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, and Postmodernism
Mermann-Jozwiak, Elisabeth.
MELUS, Vol. 25, No. 2, Summer 2000
From Llorona to Gritona:(1) Coatlicue in Feminist Tales by Viramontes and Cisneros
Carbonell, Ana Maria.
MELUS, Vol. 24, No. 2, Summer 1999
(Out)Classed Women: Contemporary Chicana Writers on Inequitable Gendered Power Relations
Phillipa Kafka.
Greenwood Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Discusses the works of Sandra Cisneros in multiple chapters
Books and Reading in the Lives of Notable Americans: A Biographical Sourcebook
John A. McCrossan.
Greenwood Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Sandra Cisneros" begins on p. 58
Humble Creator of an Iconic Novel
Martinez, Elizabeth Coonrod.
Americas (English Edition), Vol. 61, No. 3, May-June 2009
One Writer's Bicultural Blend Poet Sandra Cisneros Says Her Mexican-American Heritage Provides Two Views of the World
Laurel Shaper Walters, writer of The Christian Science Monitor.
The Christian Science Monitor, March 12, 1993
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