Born into a world where writing was considered unimportant, Sandra Cisneros has become a strong voice for the Mexican-American female experience. She grew up in Chicago, the only girl in a family with seven boys, with a Mexican father and Chicano mother. Frequent moves throughout her childhood left her isolated, and she took to writing as an escape from the neighborhoods of what she described as “empty lots and burned-out buildings.” (Sagel, Jim. “Sandra Cisneros.” Interview. Publishers Weekly 29 March 1991. 74-75.)
Graduating from Loyola University in 1976 with a B.A. in English, she went on to earn an M.F.A. at the University of Iowa in 1978. It was there that she developed the confidence to express herself as a feminist Latina writer. Her first published work was a book of poetry, Bad Boys, in 1980.
She followed that in 1984 with her classic novel of coming of age in a Latino community, The House on Mango Street, which won an American Book Award and has sold millions of copies. It is used in schools and universities across the United States.
She has published several other volumes of poetry: The Rodrigo Poems (1985), My Wicked, Wicked Ways (1987), and Loose Woman (1994). Her celebrated book of short stories, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories was published in 1991 and received several awards, including the PEN Center West Award for Best Fiction. Other works include the 2002 novel Caramelo and a book for children, Hairs/Pelitos from 1994.
Have You Seen Marie? was released in 2012 and tells the story of a woman looking for a lost cat and dealing with her mother’s death. Her memoir A House of My Own: Stories from My Life was published in 2015.
Throughout her life Cisneros has worked within her Chicano community as a teacher and mentor for emerging writers, and has founded two non-profit organizations to further that goal: the Macondo Foundation and the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation. She was awarded a prestigious MacArthur fellowship in 1995. In 1996 President Obama presented her with the National Medal of the Arts.