In summer 2015, the Wittliff Collections acquired the major literary archive of author, Sandra Cisneros. As one of America’s leading writers, Cisneros helped launch the Latino literary boom and is the author of poetry, a memoir, essays, children’s books, and fiction – including the internationally acclaimed The House on Mango Street.
In October – just months after the arrival of her archive on campus, Sandra Cisneros stepped through the front doors of the Albert B. Alkek Library, looked around, and said, “So, this is my new home?” It was the first of
several trips over the next eighteen months to visit her papers. Upon acquisition of the archive, she stated, “It’s important to me that my archives have found a home where I’ve felt at home and respected in my lifetime… I think it imperative scholars studying my work travel to the world I knew and called home to better understand my work.”
Scholars who travel to San Marcos will also benefit from pouring through over 300 boxes of archival material documenting every aspect of Cisneros’ literary career and personal life.
In August 2015, the archive arrived on campus in boxes, storage tubs, baskets, and bags packed up from Sandra Cisneros’ home in San Antonio. Wittliff Collections Lead Archivist, Katie Salzmann, spent the next eighteen months organizing the papers – arranging them so that scholars and students can easily identify material relevant to their research. With assistance from Texas State graduate student Elizabeth Moeller, and student workers, Carol Alvarez and Audrey Johnston, Salzmann worked through boxes of writings, photographs, diaries, correspondence, publicity material, business records, and other records from Cisneros’ distinguished career.
The Wittliff Collections has a long tradition of providing hands-on archival experience for students. In addition to regular student workers, the archive staff frequently takes on interns and volunteers who are interested in exploring careers in the field. Audrey Johnston, a photography major from the Houston area, reflects on the impact that working with the Sandra Cisneros archive had on her: “She has been my favorite author since I first read The House On Mango Street in high school. Her writing has always been so vivid, so to be able to go through thousands of photos and see where she wrote her stories and poems, who she spent time with, and what she found important to keep was like peeling back a whole new layer of her work. It was a gift to be able to work on her collection and I’ll always treasure the time I spent there.”
The archive officially opened for research in April 2017, and the very first group to conduct research using the papers was Texas State professor Geneva Gano’s English 3343 students. Over several weeks, the twenty-five students in her “The Work and Career of Sandra Cisneros” course spent time in the Wittliff Collections reading room looking through boxes from the Cisneros archive. Their topics were varied, and ranged from Cisneros’ early years in Chicago, to her time in San Antonio, and from Cisneros as feminist icon to her role in social justice and activism. Several students from the class presented their research at a symposium in April 2017 that Gano organized, and that Sandra Cisneros herself attended.
The Sandra Cisneros archive is clearly an important acquisition for the Wittliff Collections, and it is one that helps raise the profile of the University Libraries and continues to support scholarship and research at Texas State. The work that the archives staff did to preserve, organize, and promote Cisneros’ archive is also done for every incoming collection at the Wittliff, and represents a core part of our mission.