Sandra Cisneros: 1954—: Writer
Earned Literary Acclaim And Fame
In 1981 Cisneros took a short-lived administrative position at Loyola and then moved to Cape Cod. The following year Cisneros received the first of two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. With the award money she left for Europe and three years later, while on the Aegean Sea in Greece, finished the manuscript that would become The House on Mango Street. Its 1985 publication was met with accolades and awards. Critics declared her a stunning new voice. Descriptions like sudden jewels filled the stories that made up the book. Her imagery stirred the senses and secured Cisneros a place on literary scene. General audiences devoured the book up and in a nod to the ultimate academic acclaim, The House on Mango Street found its way onto university syllabuses, most notably on the required curriculums of Yale and Stanford. The awkward young writer once intimidated by her more learned classmates was now listed prominently on "Required Reading" lists nationwide.
Made up of a series of poetic vignettes, The House on Mango Street is narrated by Esperanza, a Mexican-American girl coming of age in a Chicano barrio of Chicago. Not unlike Cisneros herself, Esperanza longs for a stable home. "Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man's house. Not a daddy's. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias." Instead Esperanza has a house that is "small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you'd think they were holding their breath." Dedicated a las Mujeres, or to the Women, the book offers a voice of defiance to the oppressed, sidelined, subservient Hispanic woman. As Esperanza says, "I have begun my own quiet war. Simple. Sure. I am one who leaves the table like a man, without putting back the chair or picking up the plate."
Following the publication of The House on Mango Street, Cisneros returned to the United States and accepted a position as an arts administrator in San Antonio, Texas. There, in 1986 she received a DoblePaisano fellowship. This allowed her the freedom to produce My Wicked, Wicked Ways, a book of poetry published in 1987. The poems tell of her European travels, her childhood in Chicago, and the Catholic guilt she feels at being a sexual, uncompromising woman. It also declares freedom for the Hispanic woman. A woman who says, "I've learned two things/To let go/clean as a kite string/and to never wash a man's clothes./These are my rules." By this time, Cisneros had decided to make San Antonio her home. Despite her literary acclaim, she found it difficult to find work. She found herself pasting flyers on street posts and 24-hour stores, trying to drum up enough students for a private workshop. Defeated and depressed, Cisneros left San Antonio for a guest lectureship at California State University in Chico. "I thought I couldn't teach. I found myself becoming suicidal," she told Publishers Weekly. Soon after arriving in California, Cisneros was awarded a second NEA fellowship. She promptly moved back to San Antonio and began writing again.
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