Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago in 1954, the only daughter in a family of seven children. Traveling back and forth between Mexico and the United States as a child imbued a sort of outsider’s perspective in her writing; once unable to see herself as a full member of either nation, she now embodies the cultural blending of the Chicano/a movement. Cisneros received her M.F.A from the University of Iowa in 1978, and she has worked in the field of academia as a creative writing instructor, counselor to high school drop outs, college recruiter, arts administrator, and visiting writer for many prestigious universities (Sandra Cisneros). In an interview with Knopfgroup Publishing, Cisneros stresses the importance of education as a means for women to secure a writing space of their own through economic independence. She advises all young writers “to go to school and to get as much of an education as possible. I think its very difficult to become a writer without the education;” to further that end she founded and presides over the Macondo Foundation, “an association of socially engaged writers working to advance creativity, foster generosity, and honor our communities” (“Writing,” Sandra Cisneros). She is also founder and president of the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation, a grant-giving institution for Texas writers (Sandra Cisneros).
Cisneros has published two full length poetry books, My Wicked Wicked Ways and Loose Woman, which won the Mountains & Plains Booksellers' Award. Her collection of short stories, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories was awarded the PEN Center West Award for Best Fiction of l99l, the Quality Paperback Book Club New Voices Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Lannan Foundation Literary Award, and was selected as a noteworthy book of the year by The New York Times and The American Library Journal, and nominated Best Book of Fiction for l99l by The Los Angeles Times (Sandra Cisneros).
Cisneros has also published a children's book, Hairs/Pelitos, and two novels, The House on Mango Street and Caramelo. Vintage Cisneros, published in 2003, is a compilation of selections from her works. The House on Mango Street, first published in 1984, won the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award in 1985. A Chicana bildungsroman, it is required reading in middle schools, high schools, and universities across the country. Since its initial publication, The House on Mango Street has sold two million copies and counting, a testament to Cisneros’s enduring popularity. Caramelo was selected as notable book of the year by numerous newspapers, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, and the Seattle Times. In 2005 Caramelo was awarded the Premio Napoli and nominated for the Orange Prize in England (Sandra Cisneros).
Cisneros’s refreshing use of language and unique writing style have garnered numerous awards. In 1995, she was awarded the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Not satisfied, she “subsequently organized the Latino MacArthur Fellows — Los MacArturos — into a reunion focusing on community outreach” (Sandra Cisneros). She has also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Loyola University; an honorary Doctor of Letters from the State University of New York at Purchase; two National Endowment of the Arts Fellowships for fiction and poetry, l988, l982; the Roberta Holloway Lectureship at the University of California, Berkeley; the Chicano Short Story Award from the University of Arizona; the Texas Institute of Letters Dobie-Paisano Fellowship; and an Illinois Artists Grant, l984. In 2003 she was given the Texas Medal of the Arts (Sandra Cisneros).
Cisneros’s works have been translated into multiple languages, including Spanish, Galician, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, and, recently, into Greek, Iranian, Thai, and Serbo-Croatian (Sandra Cisneros). Her prose has global appeal: while her novels brim with Mexican references, her treatment of larger themes—love, family ties, female suffering—speak to the commonality of human experience. She is one of the few Chicano/a author to be seen as hugely commercially viable by her publishers—Caramelo is the “first Chicana/o novel to appear in Spanish without the condition of first becoming a bestseller in English” (Gutierrez y Muhs 23). The translated Spanish edition sold 13,000 copies in its first six months in bookstores, a groundbreaking number when compared to the dismal sales of typical Spanish translations in the 1990s (23).
Indeed, many critics see her as the defining female voice of the Chicano/a movement, the first woman who made the Latino community accessible to outsiders. In her criticism, “Sandra Cisneros and Her Trade of the Free Word” Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs asserts that, in the skilled hands of Cisneros, the Chicano “traverses languages, stages, cultures, and systems of mainstreaming values where pop culture, past and present, is inscribed and differential articulations of racialized notions of skin color and cultural icons are exhibited” (34).