Sandra Cisneros, the Latina writer who won millions of passionately loyal readers for “The House on Mango Street” and “Women Hollering Creek” among her other titles, and inspired an entire generation of young Latino writers and artists with her outspoken positions on social issues and her philanthropic support of emerging talents, has been paid one of the ultimate compliments.
A literary center at a Texas university has purchased her papers.
The University in fast-growing San Marcos announced on Sept. 10 that its highly-regarded Wittliff Collections has acquired Cisneros’ literary archives. A Chicago native, Cisneros is one the nation’s leading contemporary fiction writers.
Cisneros helped to usher in the Latino literary boom. She was one of the first Latina writers to have her work published by a mainstream publishing house, and she has produced a prolific body of work: short stories, a novel, poetry, essays, children’s books, and a memoir.
Her best-selling debut novel in 1984, “The House on Mango Street,” was critically acclaimed and re-issued in printing after printing and has become required reading in classrooms everywhere. More than six million copies have been sold in numerous languages. Hundreds of articles and scholarly papers have focused on Cisneros’ work for more than 30 years.
Located at the Albert Alkek Library on Texas State University’s campus, the Wittliff Collections preserves, collects, and celebrates the literary and photographic arts of Texas, the Southwest, and Mexico.
The Cisneros papers that will be archived at Texas State are contained in 250 file boxes documenting her literary career, including manuscripts, personal diaries, travel journals, correspondence, photos, videos, awards, publicity material, personal effects, interviews and speeches, and original drawings by Cisneros.
The archives will include files on Cisneros’ struggle with the City of San Antonio over the color scheme of her now-former home on Guenther Street in King William. The University will also display the portable Canon typewriter Cisneros used to write many of her works.
Additionally, original artwork used for the first edition of “The House on Mango Street“ will be archived on campus.
Cisneros said in a University press release that it was important that her archives be stored in a place where, “I’ve felt at home and respected in my lifetime.”
Cisneros continued, “The Wittliff Collection reflects an admiration and appreciation for Texas’ Mexican and Tejano legacy. Their support of Tejano writing projects and Tejano writers firmed my final decision. One more consideration: I think it’s imperative scholars studying my work travel to the world I knew and called home to better understand my work. I’m grateful and thrilled to have my archives at home finally at the Wittliff.”
Susan Bergholz, Cisneros’ literary agent, said “The House on Mango Street“ launched Cisneros’ career, but her subsequent work also has had a profound effect on generations of readers and writers.
Cisneros’ love for writing and community led her to found two organizations in San Antonio. In 1998 she turned a home-based creative writing workshop into the Macondo Foundation, which supports socially conscious workshops for writers. Two years later, she founded Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation, which has awarded grants to talented Texas writers.
University officials lauded Cisneros’ promotion of literacy, creativity and social responsibility, even when she worked as a teacher and counselor for high school drop-outs.
“The influence Sandra has had is tangible, but she’s also continuing to influence in ways we don’t even fully see yet,” Bergholz said.
Bergholz explained how Cisneros’ work began to affect young readers early in her career, especially because of popular themes in “The House on Mango Street.”
“One of the most interesting things about Sandra from years ago is that she wasn’t really known yet in New York (City), but she was already known in school textbooks,” Bergholz said. “Students have been growing up with her works.”
Wittliff Collections Director David Coleman called her works “a major, major addition” for Texas State.
“We’ve been committed to collecting these papers because they are research rich,” Coleman said.
“Sandra is someone we love and admire. She is absolutely someone with an international reputation, someone who has become symbolic for the Latino writers’ movement.”
University President Denise Trauth praised Cisneros for having helped to develop a voice for Latinas in American literature, and using her personal experiences to connect with generations of readers.
“Ms. Cisneros is among this country’s unique literary voices and her writings about the Mexican-American experience are not only relevant to an international audience, but treasured by individuals from all backgrounds,” Trauth said in a news release.
Coleman said it will take at least one year to catalog Cisneros’ papers, which will be fully showcased in a major exhibition.
Until then, the Wittliff Collections is celebrating the acquisition by publicly previewing a selection of items from the Cisneros archive. In due time, Cisneros’ papers will join those of Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry and Sam Shepard, among other major holdings in the Wittliff Collections.
Coleman said he looks forward to students, particularly aspiring writers, using the collection to research Cisneros and her work.
“A lot of her story has been about finding a voice that works for her and the courage to use that voice,” he said. “My feeling is that students will take that away from her archives, that they will need to find their voice and courage.”
Coleman said his review of the papers showed him that Cisneros was practiced at storing an array of ideas, some of which would be used for future writings.
“You could see ideas would start to flow from nowhere, but they didn’t all immediately go into one place,” he said. “Some would be used for future projects.”
Bergholz said Cisneros would randomly toss notes into one box she kept under her bed.
Cisneros turned to a longtime friend of hers, John Randall in New Mexico, to help appraise her papers. Cisneros currently lives in Mexico.
“John understands who Sandra is. He was fascinated by her process,” Bergholz said. “Between this and the Wittliff Collections, which has a strong reach into Mexico. These were the people (Texas State) she identified and felt at home with.”
Cisneros currently is promoting her memoir, “A House of My Own: Stories from My Life,” which will be released in October.
*Top image: Sandra Cisneros. Courtesy image.