Sandra Cisneros

A House of My Own

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A House of My Own Summary

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A House of My Own: Stories from My Life (2015) is a memoir by Sandra Cisneros. Cisneros is one of the most popular and celebrated Latina authors. She is also the recipient of many prestigious national and international awards, including the highly coveted MacArthur Fellowship, the PEN Center USA Literary Award, the Fairfax Prize, and in 2016, she was awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President Obama.

A House of My Own is a collection of more than forty essays, speeches, book introductions written for other writers, and letters written over the course of her career from 1984-2014. Each selection is introduced with a short header explaining the original provenance of the piece. One of the impetuses for publishing this book is to put some records straight: “The memories I present here are a way of claiming my real life and differentiating it from my fiction, since there seems to be so much out there assumed or invented about me.” In the introduction, she writes that many of the selections have been revised since their original delivery or publication in order to improve them. In some of the selections, asterisks in the original text offer insight into the ways Cisneros’ ideas and thoughts have changed in the years since.

For Cisneros, a dual citizen of Mexico and the United States, home is a house, a writing machine, and the company of her animals. In short, home is writing. This idea is emphasized in “No Place Like Home” when she writes about books being a kind of home, and the way she took “shelter” in a book she started writing in her MFA program. The book was not part of her thesis, but it provided her respite all the same. In “A Borrowed House,” she writes about her favorite childhood book The Little House, and the way the book had a grounding influence on her. In a way, the book becomes a life raft and a friend to Cisneros.

She also writes about her travels, undertaken because she felt provincial and wanted to impress her “Chicago nemesis, a man [she] considered sophisticated.” In “Hydra House,” she remembers her time in the Greek islands, where she finished The House on Mango Street. She and her friend rent rooms on Hydra and live the dream: scribbling in journals, collecting the local eccentrics, and enraging her publisher who was still waiting on the novel’s manuscript she had yet to deliver. She misses her planned meeting with her nemesis, causing him to rage, but she says, “I’d chosen my writing over a man. It wouldn’t be the last time.” She borrows a typewriter and finishes the book in only a few months.

Cisneros covers a broad range of subjects. She writes about the difficulty of being a single, independent woman raised in a culture that values marriage and motherhood in “I Can Live Sola and I Love to Work.” She also writes about her parents in the essay “Tapicero’s Daughter” where she discusses her father’s work as an upholsterer and her mother’s love of collecting things. Both are eulogized in ofrendas. In “An Ofrenda for my Mother,” Cisneros credits her mother for forming the independent, searching woman that she is: “I became a writer thanks to a mother who was unhappy being a mother. She was a prisoner-of-war mother, banging on the bars of her cell all her life. Unhappy women do this. She searched for escape routes from her prison and found them in museums, public concerts, and the public library.” Her mother dreamed of being an artist, and had the talent, but was never able to see that dream through—it is not much of a leap to see a young Cisneros taking heed of her mother’s unhappiness and going out of her way to avoid the things that made her unhappy (marriage and children). The ofrenda also offers insight into Cisneros’s fierce determination to pursue her art at any cost.

She also makes space to celebrate art and work other than her own. She writes about meeting Luis Omar Salinas, a poet who was shy in person and then came alive when he performed. In “Falling in Love with Enamoramiento,” she writes about her admiration of sculptor José Luis Rivera-Barrera. She visited his work at the San Antonio Museum of Art and fell in love with several pieces she could not afford, including Enamoramiento, a sculpture of two lovers meeting in a kiss. Other artists who grace the pages of the book are Marguerite Duras, Gwendolyn Brooks, Eduardo Galeano, Chavela Vargas, Mercé Rodoreda, and Astor Piazzolla. They are novelists, activists, poets, and musicians, all of whom influence Cisneros.

Ultimately, A House of My Own is about identity, becoming, ideas of place and home. It won the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Creative Nonfiction in 2016. In addition to the revised essays, speeches, and letters, she also includes full-color photographs in many of the selections.