Acclaimed Mexican-American author and Chicago native Sandra Cisneros met with sophomore American Literature students in early October, providing Ramblers with a rare opportunity to illuminate their course work in a unique way. The virtual discussion was facilitated by English Teacher Mr. Chris Ackels, whose sophomore O’Shaughnessy American Literature classes had just finished reading The House on Mango Street, Cisneros’ award-winning coming of age story about growing up on Chicago’s West Side.
“Meeting Sandra Cisneros was the best experience,” says Mykal-Michele Parker-Hall '23. “It helped me understand the book better. Not always do you get to meet an author, but in talking with her you could tell all she wanted was to see us succeed in life.”
Ackels explained that he was looking for ways to keep his students engaged over Zoom. "I had a wild idea," he says. "What if I tried to get Ms. Cisneros to join us on a Zoom call?”
The idea worked.
Cisneros agreed to a Zoom discussion with the class almost immediately after Ackels contacted her publicist. “Ms. Cisneros let me know that one of the first times she imagined herself as a writer was during her sophomore year of high school,” says Ackels. “Her English teacher had brought in a poet named Paul Carroll to come speak to her class. When she saw my note about this being a sophomore class, she knew she wanted to do it.”
To prepare for the meeting, Ackels encouraged his students to write questions for the author in advance. “I really wanted them to speak directly with her,” he says. “I think it's so valuable for the students to see the person behind the text.”
Questions from students ranged from the writing process and where the author finds inspiration to how she develops characters and if she is still connected to the Chicago neighborhood featured in the novel. Some asked about the steps to getting published while others wanted to know more about the Latina experience in one of the midwest’s largest cities.
"I began to think, I've never seen my story in a book or movie. Why have I never seen my community depicted with love, in the way that I know it?” Cisneros explained to students. “And then I decided, you know what, I'm going to write that book that I've never seen in the library.”
As the meeting rounded to an end, Cisneros left Ramblers with some words of wisdom, encouraging them to take time for themselves each day -- to step back, breathe, and reflect. Her message was positive and uplifting: “You are the generation that is going to make the change. I am excited for you; your generation gives me hope."
Her words had a lasting impact on Ramblers.
“Ms. Cisneros didn’t just teach us about how she wrote the book or what went into it. She taught us lots of life lessons about growing up and how life can be hard but you just have to keep plugging along,” recalls Ryan Banas ’23.
“She was so kind to the students. She complimented them on great questions, she encouraged them to take on leadership roles for their generation,” says Ackels. “Most importantly, she nudged them to think about life differently. She's a teacher, really, in so many ways.”
Cisneros is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago (Bachelor of Arts, 1976). Her numerous awards include NEA fellowships in both poetry and fiction, the Texas Medal of the Arts, a MacArthur Fellowship, several honorary doctorates and national and international book awards, including Chicago’s Fifth Star Award, the PEN Center USA Literary Award, the Fairfax Prize, and the National Medal of the Arts awarded to her by President Obama in 2016. Learn more at https://www.sandracisneros.com.