Notable Latino Writers
Born: Chicago, Illinois; December 20, 1954
Long Fiction: The House on Mango Street, 1984; Caramelo, 2002.
Short Fiction: Woman Hollering Creek, and Other Stories, 1991.
Poetry: Bad Boys, 1980; The Rodrigo Poems, 1985; My Wicked, Wicked Ways, 1987; Loose Woman, 1994.
Children's Literature: Hairs = Pelitos, 1984.
Miscellaneous: Vintage Cisneros, 2004.
Sandra Cisneros (SAHN-drah sihz-NAY-rohs) was born in Chicago in 1954 to a Mexican father and a Mexican American mother. She grew up in a working-class family with six brothers; her family expected her to follow the traditional female role. Her lonely childhood growing up with six males and the family's constant moving contributed to her becoming a writer. The family moved frequently--from house to house and from Chicago to Mexico City--which caused constant upheavals. She felt trapped between the American and the Mexican cultures, not belonging in either one. Understandably, Cisneros withdrew into a world of books. The family finally settled down in a Puerto Rican neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. This setting provided Cisneros with the inspiration for her first novel, The House on Mango Street, and the characters who appear in it.
Cisneros moved to Iowa, where she earned a master's degree in creative writing at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1978. During her two years there, she felt lonely and displaced. A particularly unsettling experience occurred, one that ultimately helped her find her narrative voice and her writing subjects. During a seminar discussion of Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space (1957), Cisneros discovered that his use of "house" as a metaphor differed radically from her understanding. She realized that Bachelard and her classmates shared a communal understanding of "house," one that she did not possess. Recognizing her otherness, she decided to write about subjects and memories close to her life but foreign to her classmates: third-floor flats, fear of rats, drunk and abusive husbands, all unpoetic subjects. At the same time, she found her literary voice, one which had been there but she had suppressed.
Before developing her career as a writer, Cisneros worked as a teacher, counselor, and arts administrator. She also began writing autobiographical sketches about her life experiences and continues to write about "those ghosts that haunt [her], that will not [let] her sleep." She is internationally recognized for her poetry and fiction in which she intermingles English and Spanish. Her poetry and short stories, though not copious, have earned for her recognition as an outstanding Latina writer.
Bad Boys, Cisneros's first published work, appeared in 1980. The series of seven poems depicts childhood scenes and experiences in the Mexican American ghetto of Chicago. In these early poems, Cisneros was more concerned with sound and timing than with content.
Although Cisneros has written four volumes of poetry, it is her fiction for which she is best known. The House on Mango Street received the 1985 Before Columbus American Book Award. This work, which took her five years to complete, provides a feminine perspective on growing up. The collection of forty-four narratives relates the experiences of Esperanza Cordero, the Hispanic adolescent narrator. The sketches describe her experiences as she matures and discovers life in a poor Hispanic urban ghetto. The house on Mango Street symbolizes her search for self-identity as she yearns for "a house all [her] own."
My Wicked, Wicked Ways, Cisneros's third volume of poetry, which includes "The Rodrigo Poems," is her revised and expanded master's thesis. It collects sixty poems on various subjects, including encounters with friends, travels, amorous experiences such as the monologues by women romantically involved with Rodrigo, and the guilt associated with a Mexican and Catholic upbringing. Supported by a 1982 National Endowment for the Arts grant, Cisneros traveled through Europe and worked on poems describing brief encounters with men she met during her travels. The poems in this collection tell Cisneros's own life story from a more mature voice. As the title suggests, the major emphasis is on the author's dealing with her own sexuality and feelings of guilt associated with her "wicked" ways.
Woman Hollering Creek, and Other Stories appeared in 1991. Its twenty-two narratives or cuentitos focus on Mexican American characters who live near San Antonio, Texas. Cisneros surveys the Mexican American woman's condition, which is at once individual and universal. She addresses contemporary issues associated with stereotypical roles, minority status, and cultural conflicts.
Loose Woman consists of sixty love poems that verge on the erotic and cover a broad spectrum of emotions. The poems are organized into three sections: "Little Clown, My Heart," "The Heart Rounds up the Usual Suspects," and "Heart, My Lovely Hobo." In these poems, Cisneros breaks loose from feelings of guilt and celebrates her womanhood.
Caramelo marked Cisneros's return to Long Fiction:, with a more conventional novelistic form than her previous works. The dominant metaphor for this multigenerational story is the rebozo, or traditional Mexican shawl, owned by the main character's grandmother. As in all of Cisneros's fiction, there is a strongly autobiographical aspect to her heroine, Celaya, who travels between her nuclear family home in Chicago and the extended family home in Mexico City, and who grows up to become a poet.
Gloria A. Duarte-ValverdeLearn More
Bloom, Harold, ed. Sandra Cisneros's "The House on Mango Stret." Philadelphia, Pa.: Chelsea House, 2000. One in a series of books designed for students of literature. Contains essays about the novel, a list of characters, a summary and analysis of the book, a biographical sketch of Cisneros, and a description of how the book was written.
Brady, Mary Pat. "The Contrapuntal Geographies of Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories." American Literature 71 (March, 1999): 117-150. Shows how Cisneros's narrative techniques challenge various spatial representations and lay bare hidden stories. Claims that Cisneros explores the various subtleties of violence of changing spatial relations.
Cisneros, Sandra. "The Authorized Sandra Cisneros Web Site." http://www.sandracisneros.com/. Accessed March 22, 2005. In addition to information about her books, this website contains a biography, interviews, reviews, scheduled appearances, study guides, and other resources.
Cruz, Felicia J. "On the `Simplicity' of Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street." Modern Fiction Studies 47, no. 4 (2001): 910-946. Studies the varieties of representation in Cisneros's novel.
Doyle, Jacqueline. "More Room of Her Own: Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street." MELUS 19 (Winter, 1994): 5-35. Discusses The House on Mango Street as a transformation of the terms of Virginia Woolf's vision in A Room of One's Own (1929). Asserts Cisneros's work provides a rich reconsideration of the contemporary feminist inheritance as influenced by Woolf.
Griffin, Susan E. "Resistance and Reinvention in Sandra Cisneros' Woman Hollering Creek." In Ethnicity and the American Short Story, edited by Julie Brown. New York: Garland, 1997. Discusses the role that Mexican popular culture and traditional Mexican narratives play in limiting women's sense of identity. Focuses primarily on the negative effects of popular romances in Mexico and televised soap operas.
Madsen, Deborah L. Understanding Contemporary Chicana Literature. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001. A close study of the work of Bernice Zamora, Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, Denise Chavez, Alma Luz Villanueva, and Lorna Dee Cervantes. Includes an extensive bibliography.
Miriam-Goldberg, Caryn. Sandra Cisneros: Latina Writer and Activist. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow, 1998. A biography in a series on Hispanic writers.
Mullen, Harryette. "`A Silence Between Us Like a Language': The Untranslatability of Experience in Sandra Cisneros's Woman Hollering Creek." MELUS 21 (Summer, 1996): 3-20. Argues that Spanish as a code comprehensible to an inside group and as a repressed language subordinate to English are central issues in Woman Hollering Creek.
Olivares, Julian. "Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street, and the Poetics of Space." The Americas Review 15, nos. 3/4 (1987): 160-170. In-depth analysis of the sketches with special attention to Cisneros's distinctive use of the metaphor of a house situated in a Latino neighborhood. Bibliographical references.
Sanborn, Geoffrey. "Keeping Her Distance: Cisneros, Dickinson, and the Politics of Private Enjoyment." Publications of the Modern Language Association 116, no. 5 (2001): 1334-1348. Analyzes Cisneros's use of a poem by Emily Dickinson in The House on Mango Street as a means of evoking the pleasures of withdrawal from face-to-face sociality.
Thompson, Jeff. "`What Is Called Heaven?' Identity in Sandra Cisneros's Woman Hollering Creek." Studies in Short Fiction 31 (Summer, 1994): 415-424. States that the overall theme of the stories is the vulnerability of the female narrators. The vignettes should be read as symptomatic of a social structure that allows little cultural movement and little possibility for the creation of an identity outside the barrio.
Wyatt, Jean. "On Not Being La Malinche: Border Negotiations of Gender in Sandra Cisneros's `Never Marry a Mexican' and `Woman Hollering Creek.'" Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 14 (Fall, 1995): 243-271. Discusses how the stories describe the difficulties of living on the border between Anglo-American and Mexican cultures and how the female protagonists of the stories struggle with sexuality and motherhood as icons that limit their identity.
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