Sandra Cisneros wins Fairfax Prize



On Sept. 30 at Harris Theatre, Fall for the Book capped off with its Fairfax Prize winner, Sandra Cisneros. The prize is offered to outstanding authors for their written achievements and contributions.


For Cisneros, the international world is a topic she takes seriously. Her writing aims to capture her people’s unheard voices. Cisneros is a dual citizen of both Mexico and the United States, and metaphorically, she considers herself a bridge between these two countries.  She hopes that someday the U.S. and Mexico can peacefully live beside each other without violence or hate. With this topic in mind, she mentioned how often she admires journalists because they speak for unheard voices. Cisneros’ works emulates the work of these journalists, as she speaks for her people and their unheard sufferings.


One such voice which has made its impact on the world for almost 30 years is the fictional protagonist Esperanza from Cisneros’ “The House On Mango Street.” Esperanza’s moving story is told in vignettes and captures adolescent emotions and what it feels like to be a young Hispanic woman growing up in America. Somewhat like Esperanza, Cisneros grew up outside of Chicago hoping to be a writer so she could inspire other young women to better their lives.


So far Cisneros’ work has been a major success in inspiring young adults and, especially, women. Her books are continually taught in classrooms throughout the country, and she has been published in multiple languages across the globe. Her work’s mission in this “age of global fear,” as she called it, is to encourage respect for our Hispanic neighbors.

On the night of her acceptance, Cisneros had a Q&A session with Mason students, most of whom were aspiring writers. Many students expressed to Cisneros how much they appreciate her work and how often they return to her books because they speak relatable themes.


Cisneros advised the young audience simply to write and let the words lead them. Cisneros’ understanding of writing derives from her ability to tell stories in the dark. This method allows her thoughts and ideas to carry her off into whatever genre of poetry or fiction she desires to explore. Most of her pieces experiment with and merge the fine lines between fiction and poetry.


Cisneros described writing as fishing, and that on most days she is not the creator of the fish, but the fisherman who waits for words to come. “Some days are better than others for catching fish,” Cisneros said.

On her final note, she discussed her purpose as a writer, and possibly the purpose for all writers. Her greatest literary feat is taking on the voices of her students, young Hispanic women and her people. Writing gives the author a certain kind of power which, in turn, ends up empowering the world. Her one other inspiring note to young writers was to use their “beautiful gifts.”


“What beautiful gifts,” Cisneros said, “that you can give to the world.” Her other piece of advice was to “use your sensitivity for power. Everyone has a story; turn your sadness to light. Don’t stop writing until you’ve transformed your demon into a plant.” Cisneros’ lyrical advice was indeed almost transformative to the audience.

To find out more about the award-winning Cisneros, you can visit her website at Her latest work is “A House of My Own: Stories From My Life,” a memoir published in 2015.