With her fiction and poetry, Sandra Cisneros has been an important part of introducing the modern Hispanic American experience to our national literature. With her distinctive, rhythmic style, she has brought us stories of Mexican heritage and American cultural enclaves.
Sandra Cisneros' first novel, The House on Mango Street, brought an entirely new voice to American literature, describing the experience of narrator Esperanza Cordero, a Mexican American girl living a hardscrabble existence in Chicago. As Bebe Moore Campbell put it, in the New York Times Book Review: "She is not only a gifted writer, but an absolutely essential one."
The book bore the author's powerful descriptive talents: Comparing her house on Mango Street with the "real house" her parents had promised her, Esperanza notes, "The house on Mango street is not the way they told it at all. It's small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you'd think they were holding their breath."
Cisneros, who grew up in Chicago as the only daughter in a family of seven children, attended college on scholarship and was an ethnic anomaly as a graduate student at University of Iowa's renowned Writers' Workshop. There is a lyric quality to Cisneros' work that makes sense, given her alternate life as a poet who has published several volumes of poetry (two, 1980's Bad Boys and 1985's The Rodrigo Poems, are no longer in print).
As a poet, Cisneros has a staccato, highly evocative style. From "A Few Items to Consider," for example: "First there is the scent of barley/to remember. Barley and rain./The smooth terrain to recollect and savor./Unforgiving whiteness of the room./Ambiguity of linen. Purity./Mute and still as photographs on the moon." Cisneros suffuses her poetry and fiction with healthy dose of Spanish and a feminine sensibility, female narrators who remember everything and for whom no detail or sensation is too small. Paragraphs are often punctuated by lists and five-word snapshots. As Cisneros herself has said, she is a miniaturist.
Her poetry and a 1991 collection of stories, Woman Hollering Creek, would have to tide fans over until the long-awaited release of her second novel, 2002's Caramelo. Like her first novel, the story is narrated by a Mexican-American girl; but the scope is a broader one, covering generations of a family as viewed through a cherished caramelo rebozo, or striped traditional shawl, which has been passed down through generations to the book's heroine.
Caramelo has a comical and occasionally unconventional spirit to it, as when one of the characters in the story breaks in to complain about how she is being portrayed. The novel began as an exploration of her own family, and the connection to Cisneros' own life is evident. Here as in other work, Cisneros fills in the gaps between Mexico and the U.S., personal myth and reality.