Sandra Cisneros: Groundbreaking Chicana Author

Iconic Chicana writer Sandra Cisneros rose to prominence with her 1984 novel "The House on Mango Street"

Sandra Cisneros Retrospective

Photo: Wikicommons/ksm36

From Isabel Allende to Julia Alvarez, Latina authors have been trailblazers in uplifting Latina voices within their stories and the industry at large. Of the faces of Latina and Chicana/o/x literature is none other than Mexican American writer Sandra Cisneros. Known for her groundbreaking, coming of age novel, The House on Mango Street (1984), Cisneros is a key figure in literature and one of these most influential Latina authors. As the first Chicana author to be signed by a major publisher and a writer whose work has become pivotal to school curricula nationwide, the 69-year-old writer has had significant influence in the literary world for decades. She’s received numerous awards including the 2015 National Medal of Arts, the highest honor given to artists by the United States government. Read on to learn more about this groundbreaking author and her achievements throughout her career. 

Early Life

Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago in 1954 as the only daughter to a Mexican father and Mexican-American mother in a family of seven children. She moved often between Mexico City and Chicago throughout her childhood. Writing found its way to her life early. At just 10 years old, she wrote her first poem and began writing more often once she started high school where was known as “the poet”. Cisneros attended Loyola University of Chicago where she earned a B.A. in English and then went on to earn her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. It was during her time at Loyola that she decided to pursue writing after taking a creative writing class. Following her academic career, Cisneros remained in education long after earning her degrees. She has worked as a teacher at the Latino Youth Alternative High School,—teaching creative writing—college recruiter, arts administrator, and even as an artist-in-the-school. She has also been a visiting writer at the college level in universities such as University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 

The House on Mango Street Success

Cisneros made her debut with the publishing of her 1980 chapbook Bad Boys—a poetry collection centering multiple Latinx characters—an issue of the Mango Chicano Chapbook Series. But a few years later she wrote the work that led to Cisneros’ breakthrough in the industry, the coming-of-age 1984 novel, The House on Mango Street. Published by Arte Público Press, the novel went on to sell over six million copies and be translated into more than twenty languages. She won an American Book Award in 1985 from the Before Columbus Foundation and the book became required reading in school curricula nationwide. The novel addresses themes of racism, identity, gender and domestic violence which have led to it being the subject of book bans and censorship. Inspired by her own upbringing, the novel has resonated with countless readers and has even been adapted to a stage production, “The House on Mango Street: The Opera”, a project she’s been working on since 2017.

Other Works

Following the success and reach of The House on Mango Street, Cisneros has continued her writing in many genres from children’s books to poetry to short stories. Sandra Cisneros made history in 1991 with the publishing of Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories—a collection of vignettes centering Mexican-American women and their relationships with the men and women in their lives. Published by Random House, one of the big five publishing houses, this book made Cisneros the first Mexican-American author signed with a major American publisher. Like The House on Mango Street, much of Cisneros’ work centers around Latinas and their perspectives. Her 1994 poetry book Loose Woman focuses on the female view of love and eroticism, her picture book Hairs/Pelitos centers a girl’s view on the hair types in her family, and her most recent novel Martita, I Remember You/Martita, te recuerdo, follows the power of female friendship. Other titles include, Puro Amor, Have You Seen Marie?, Bravo Bruno!, Caramelo, and more.

Recognition & Achievements

Cisneros’ breadth of work continues to receive acclaim and awards. Throughout her career she has been recognized time and time again for her literary contributions. Back in 1981 and 1988, she received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts—grants given to published writers to encourage their career advancement. Not long after, Cisneros was also the recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, also known as the “Genius” Grant, in 1995, after which she helped organize a Latinx-centered group called the Latino MacArthur Fellows or Los MacArturos. Other honors include the Texas Institute of Letters Dobie-Paisano Fellowship (1984); the Texas Medal of the Arts (2003); the Fifth Star Award (2015); Tia Chucha’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2016); and the Fairfax Prize (2016). More recently in 2015, Cisneros was awarded by then President Barack Obama with the National Medal of Arts—the highest honor for arts achievement given by the U.S. Congress —for “enriching the American narrative. Through her novels, short stories, and poetry, she explores issues of race, class, and gender through the lives of ordinary people straddling multiple cultures.”

Sandra Cisneros is one of the most prominent voices in Latina literature. Her writing and perspective have made generations of Latinas feel seen through her centering of Latina characters, culture and inclusion of Spanish throughout her works. Through her continuous work, she has left her mark in the literary world and opened doors for many Latina writers today.

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Chicana Latina Author Latina writer latino books month mexican american Sandra Cisneros the house on mango street
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