Pioneering Author of the Award-Winning Book
The House On Mango Street
IN THE PRESS
"An extraordinary and magical journey. Sandra Cisneros makes me so happy that I am a reader, so joyful that she is a writer, and even more exhilarated that she is part of our world. Read this book and laugh, cry, and rejoice!"
“Cisneros draws on her rich [Latino] heritage... and seduces with precise, spare prose, creat[ing] unforgettable characters we want to lift off the page. She is not only a gifted writer, but an absolutely essential one.”
It's initially rather disconcerting that much of her book is in Spanish, but in fact it's usually at least half-translated, the rest easily understood through context. Her English carries the rhythms of both languages functioning together, one changing the other...evoking the rag-tag syncopation of bilingual, bicultural thought, becoming a third, more accurate thing. Her writing is incredibly vivid, an urgent pile-up of images constructing a foreign reality and simultaneously making it familiar.
BEBE MOORE CAMPBELL
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Sandra Cisernos is a essayist, novelist and poet. Born in 1954 in Chicago, Illinois to a Mexican father and a Chicana mother. She grew up in rough neighborhoods in Chicago with her six brothers. Cisernos started writing in middle school, but kept her work private. Still, she recalls that it was in her middle school library that she decided she wanted to be an author. Inspired by a worn book, Cisernos made it her goal to have her name under a title and not only that, but she wanted the book to be dirty, "smudged from so many hands touching it."
She went on to get a B.A. in English from Loyola University of Chicago and received her M.F.A. from the University of Illinois. Before settling in San Antonio, Texas, Cisernos taught at a handful of colleges and universities including the University of Michigan, University of California, and University of New Mexico. Her first work, The House on Mango Street, published in 1984 is a coming of age novel inspired the neighborhood she grew up in, "the barrio" from a female point of view. She explains that this novel is the one that gave her a voice in the literary world.
The largest theme (and arguably all-encompassing) is the conflict of individual self with tradition, both the cultural and familial. The protagonist is often in an inner battle between resisting and yielding to various traditions. For example, many female characters feel a pull towards the Latino family tradition of marriage, further tying into the theme of love-equals-power. The characters that resist are generally unhappy and have a more difficult time of finding that balance of individualism and tradition. The characters that seem to evade the other two themes are those that identify and find strength within their tradition.
Individualism vs. Traditions
Many of the romantic relationships in Cisneros’s works involve a conflicting dynamic of love as power. The man almost always has power over “his” woman, and this is displayed in a number of ways throughout her works. In The House on Mango Street, the women surrounding Esperanza are all overpowered by their husbands, and Esperanza sees this as “normal” because her parents also hold the same dynamic in their relationship. Additionally, this theme of love-equals-power is also manifested in the daily interactions of the men and women characters, including but not limited to a simple gaze.
Another important theme in Cisneros’s work is feelings of alienation or displacement for many of her protagonists and other characters. Cisneros writes for the Latino and Chicano experience in the United States. Characters often search for that sense of self throughout the story and how to balance the cultural traditions of both the Latino and American communities. In Woman Hollering Creek, various characters express that they are searching for a place to “belong.”
Loose Woman: Poems
Cisneros' Loose Woman: Poems (1994) is a collection of poetry that focuses on her exploration of love with rawness and passion. As a Chicana feminist, she voices the realities of femininity, womanhood, sexuality, and culture.
Acknowledging the truths behind womanhood, Cisneros remains frank and almost abrasive throughout the poetry in her collection. Comparatively, works like The House on Mango Street (1984), which includes more lyrically worded vignettes, quite clearly contrast. What they do share, however, is Cisneros’ mastery of language, evident in the poem "Loose Woman," excerpted below:
I’m an aim-well,
I’m Bitch. Beast. Macha.
Ping! Ping! Ping!
I break things.
The poem, which colors the entire collection, is proud in its discussion of women empowerment. Cisneros reclaims insults targeted towards her and Chicana women in general, taking pride in the idea that she is "Bitch. Beast. Macha." Additionally, "Loose Women" and other poems in the collection oscillate between Spanish and English, indicating a cohesion between these languages. Others, like "Amorcito Corazón" are completely in Spanish.
Cisneros is unafraid to discuss womanhood and sexuality, especially as a Chicana writer. Loose Woman emphasizes that comprehending intersectionality is necessary and that the several identities she owns may not be separated from one another.
Bibliography and Further Reading
The House on Mango Street
Lesson Plans for Teachers
Topic: Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and Vignette Writing/Poetry
Grade Level: Middle School (6th-8th grades)
Subjects: Latinx Literature, Poetry, Cultural Identity
“…to tell one big story, each story contributing to the whole—like beads in a necklace.” –Sandra Cisneros
Betz, Regina M. “Chicana ‘Belonging’ in Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street.” Rocky Mountain Review, vol. 66, 2012, pp. 18–33. JSTOR [JSTOR], Accessed 30 Apr. 2017.
Brunk, Beth L. “‘EN OTRAS VOCES’: MULTIPLE VOICES IN SANDRA CISNEROS' ‘THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET.’” Hispanófila, vol. 133, Sept. 2001, pp. 137–150. JSTOR [JSTOR], Accessed 30 Apr. 2017.
Cisneros, Sandra. Loose Woman: Poems. Vintage, 1994.
Cisneros, Sandra. "Sandra Cisneros." Sandra Cisneros. Sandra Cisneros, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
"Critical Essays Themes in Cisneros' Fiction." CliffsNotes. CliffsNotes, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
Ganz, Robin. “Sandra Cisneros: Border Crossings and Beyond.” Melus, vol. 19, no. 1, 1994, p. 19. JSTOR, Accessed 30 Apr. 2017.
Garcia, Alma M. "The Development of Chicana Feminist Discourse, 1970-1980." Gender and Society, vol. 3, no. 2, 1989, pp. 217-238, Accessed 30 Apr. 2017.
Muhs, Gabriella Gutierrez Y. “Sandra Cisneros and Her Trade of the Free Word.” Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, vol. 60, no. 2, 2006, p. 23., doi:10.2307/4143855.v
"The Protagonist of an Endless Story"
1993, oil on canvas
Portrait of Sandra Cisneros