Latinas Who Write: Esmeralda Santiago

by Latina Fatale on 03/11/2011 · 1 comment

in Latina Writers

Before her famous novel When I was Puerto Rican, before providing guest commentary on NPR’s “All Things Considered”, and before graduating from Harvard, Esmeralda Santiago was a young teenager emigrating from her birthplace in Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico to the United States, at the mere age of thirteen.

After graduating from New York City’s Performing Arts High School majoring in drama and dance, Esmeralda Santiago spent the better part of eight years at community colleges – attending school part-time. Ms. Esmeralda’s hard work and dedication to her education paid off, though, when she was awarded a full scholarship to transfer to Harvard University. In the year 1976, she graduated from the institution magna cum laude, and the next year, Esmeralda Santiago co-founded CANTOMEDIA with her husband, Frank Cantor. CANTOMEDIA has since become an award-winning film and media production company, known best for documentary film-making.

Like many creative types, Esmeralda Santiago’s experience as a producer and writer of educational films opened up a new avenue as an author – the skill that would ultimately be her most well-known endeavor. In response to the publication of the memoir When I was Puerto Rican, her very first book, the Washington Post Book World lauded her as “a welcome new voice, full of passion and authority.”

Within the next five years, Esmeralda Santiago authored both America’s Dream and Almost a Woman – her first novel and second memoir respectively. The former has been published in six different languages, and was also an Alternate Selection of the Literary Guild. The latter garnered more than a few “Best of Year” mentions, in addition to capturing an Alex Award from the American Library Association. She later adapted that work into a film for PBS Masterpiece Theater, subsequently winning a George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in broadcast.

Praise for Esmeralda Santiago’s writing didn’t stop there. The third memoir she penned, The Turkish Lover, delved into her life from the time she left New York at age 21 (in 1969) to her graduation from Harvard in 1976, exploring her relationship with Turkish filmmaker Ulvi Dogan. This book was met with such enthralling reviews as the one from Booklist that raved it as “an earthy, heartfelt tale of liberation, desperation, and the crippling grip of love.” To add to the accolades, it was – in September of 2004 – selected as a BookSense recommendation, and secured places on several “Best of 2004” lists.

Esmeralda Santiago’s gripping pieces are widespread in their publication – gracing major newspapers as the New York Times and Boston Globe, periodicals like House & Garden, Metropolitan Home, and Sports Illustrated, and earning her invites to provide insightful commentary on NPR and “Morning Edition”.

Esmeralda Santiago’s writing talents hardly end there. In conjunction with Joie Davidow, Esmeralda Santiago acted as co-editor of two different anthologies – Las Christmas: Favorite Latino Authors Share Their Holiday Memories and Las Mamis: Favorite Latino Authors Remember Their Mothers. And, she authored A Doll for Navidades, an illustrated children’s book.

Outside of her writing and literary projects, Esmeralda Santiago is the epitome of a volunteer; she is a champion of public libraries, has masterminded and implemented community-based programs for adolescents, has been on the founding team of a shelter for battered women and children, participates as a board member of organizations with unwavering commitment to the arts and literature, and fervently speaks about how essential it is to encourage and support young people’s artistic development. The Girl Scouts of America took notice, and recognized Esmeralda Santiago – along with Alma Powell and Elizabeth Dole – with the National Woman of Distinction Award in March 2002.

Beyond her Harvard education, Esmeralda Santiago studied at Sarah Lawrence College, earning a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing. In addition, her literary excellence and contributions to the field have caused a number of other institutions to each present her with an Honorary Doctor of Letters. These include: Trinity University Pace University, Metropolitan College, and Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Mayagüez.

Esmeralda Santiago is, as of September 2010, working on a novel, and living in Westchester County, New York, with her husband. She’s the mother of two adult children.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Chantilly Patiño March 11, 2011 at 10:23 am

Definitely going to look into these books! :)


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