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Sandra Cisneros | Biography

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Sandra Cisneros was born on December 20, 1954, in Chicago, Illinois. Her father, Alfredo Cisneros, was born in Mexico and later moved to the United States. Her mother, Elvira Cordero Cisneros, was an American of Mexican descent. The only girl in a family of seven children, Cisneros says she grew up in a variety of "rough neighborhoods" as the family bounced between Mexico and Chicago.

Cisneros began writing stories and poetry in middle school and then continued throughout high school and at Loyola University of Chicago, where she graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in English. She was then accepted into the poetry program at the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa. It wasn't a good fit. Cisneros was so intimidated by her mostly white, mostly male classmates that she didn't write anything for her entire first year in the program. Everything about her was different—her working-class upbringing, her gender, her cultural background—and she felt she didn't belong. Instead of quitting, she got mad and funneled her anger about her classmates' privilege and her own supposed shortcomings into short bursts of prose. These prose pieces didn't count toward her master's degree, since she was in the poetry program, but the experience was cathartic. After graduating she continued to write vignettes based on her life and then added the stories of her neighbors and students once she resettled in Chicago.

The result was The House on Mango Street, published in 1984, which initially didn't make much of a splash in the literary world. But since its publication it has sold more than 5,000,000 copies and been translated into 20 languages, partly because of its enormous popularity as a classroom resource for sixth graders through college students. As a coming-of-age story that deals with the difficulties of adolescence and the struggle for a sense of identity, the novel speaks to young adults.

Cisneros has received many awards. They include a MacArthur Fellowship, the Texas Medal of Arts, the PEN America Literary Award, and additional fellowships and honorary doctorates. Her other works include two volumes of poetry (My Wicked Wicked Ways, 1987, and Loose Women, 1994), a collection of short stories (Woman Hollering Creek & Other Stories, 1991), a novel (Carmelo, 2002), and an anthology of personal essays (A House of My Own: Stories from My Life, 2015). Across all formats and genres, Cisneros continues to address the experiences of working-class people of Latin heritage living in the United States.

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