Sandra Cisneros: “At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she felt disconnected. ‘I didn’t want to sound like my classmates.'”

From The Writer’s Almanac:

Today is the birthday of the poet and novelist Sandra Cisneros, born in Chicago in 1954. She is best known for the highly acclaimed coming-of-age novel The House on Mango Street (1984). Although the book was largely ignored when it was first published, its popularity grew, and she soon became the first Mexican-American woman to sign a contract with a big American publishing house. The House on Mango Street has since been translated into a dozen languages and has become required reading for middle schools and high schools.

Cisneros was the third child — and the only girl — in a family of seven children, and she spent most of her childhood rootless, moving back and forth between Chicago and Mexico City. Because her father felt that daughters were meant for husbands and not careers, she was free to study anything she wanted in college, including something as “silly” as English. But like many young Mexican-American women, she was expected to live at home — either until she was married or kicked out because of what she calls “some sexual transgression — you know, you’ve had a baby or you come out and say you’re gay.” Cisneros found her way out in poetry. “I said that I needed a place of my own to write, which was true. But I also wanted to have freedom to lead my life and to fall in love and to do things I couldn’t do under my father’s roof.”

Cisneros studied at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, but she felt disconnected from her fellow students there. “I didn’t want to sound like my classmates; I didn’t want to keep imitating the writers I’d been reading. Their voices were right for them, but not for me,” she wrote later. When she realized that, she felt free to draw from her own background to tell the story of Esperanza, a Latina girl who is growing up in a rundown Chicago neighborhood and dreams of living in a real house. That book became The House on Mango Street

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