Esmeralda Santiago

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Esmeralda Santiago
Santiago at the 2012 Texas Book Festival.
Santiago at the 2012 Texas Book Festival.
Born (1948-05-17) May 17, 1948 (age 72)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Occupationwriter, actress
NationalityPuerto Rican
Alma materSarah Lawrence College, Harvard University
Notable worksWhen I Was Puerto Rican, Almost a Woman, The Turkish Lover, Conquistadora
SpouseFrank Cantor


Esmeralda Santiago (born May 17, 1948) is a Puerto Rican author and former actress known for her novels and memoirs.

Early life[edit]

Santiago was born on May 17, 1948 in the San Juan district of Villa Palmeras, Santurce, Puerto Rico.[1] She was the eldest of eleven children.[2] During her early life her family moved from the city, to the countryside, and vice versa. During those times they dealt with poverty.[3] In 1961, at age 13, she moved to the United States. Santiago attended junior high school in Brooklyn, and went on to attend New York City's Performing Arts High School. She graduated from Harvard University[4] and Sarah Lawrence College. She eventually met Frank Cantor and married him. The couple founded CANTOMEDIA, a film and media production company,[4] which has won numerous awards for excellence in documentaries. Santiago currently lives in Westchester County, New York with her husband.[5]


Her writing career evolved from her work as a writer of documentary and educational films. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in national newspapers including The New York Times and The Boston Globe, and on mass market magazines like House & Garden, Metropolitan Home, and Good Housekeeping.

Upon publication of her first book, the memoir When I was Puerto Rican, Ms. Santiago was hailed as "a welcome new voice, full of passion and authority," by The Washington Post Book World.

Her first novel, América's Dream, has been published in six languages, and was an Alternate Selection of the Literary Guild. "Thrilling and page turning, the fabulous story of América Gonzalez is laid out masterfully," according to the Chicago Tribune.

Her second memoir, Almost a Woman, received numerous "Best of Year" mentions, in addition to an Alex Award from the American Library Association. It has recently been adapted into a film for Exxon Mobil Masterpiece Theatre, which premiered nationally on PBS on September 14, 2002.[6]

With Joie Davidow, Ms. Santiago is coeditor of the anthologies, Las Christmas: Favorite Latino Authors Share Their Holiday Memories and Las Mamis: Favorite Latino Authors Remember their Mothers both published by Knopf.

Her 2004 memoir, The Turkish Lover, describes her life from the time she left New York at age 21 until her graduation from Harvard in 1976, and focuses on her relationship with Turkish filmmaker Ulvi Dogan.

While still in high school, she was cast in a small role in the 1967 film version of Bel Kaufman's novel Up the Down Staircase, wherein she portrayed a student named Esmeralda.

She spoke at the 2011 National Book Festival about her book Conquistadora, which she says will be a trilogy, saying her characters spoke and sang to her while she wrote the book. While researching the book she came to discover that she has African ancestry from the slaves that were bought to Puerto Rico.[7][8]


In addition to her literary endeavors, Ms. Santiago is an active volunteer. She is a spokesperson on behalf of public libraries. She has designed and developed community-based programs for adolescents, and was a founder of a shelter for battered women and their children. She serves on the boards of organizations devoted to the arts and to literature, and speaks vehemently about the need to encourage and support the artistic development of young persons.[9][10]

Santiago often repeats that Puerto Ricans and other people who come to the United States were invisible before memoirs were written about them.[11]


In 2008, Santiago had a stroke affecting her ability to read and speak. After a long rehabilitation program, Santiago's recovery from stroke has been largely successful, though not complete. She estimates that today her reading ability in English is at about “98 percent,” and in her native Spanish about “80 percent,” in part because English has been her predominant language since coming to the U.S [12] In 2011, three years after the stroke, she finished her epic novel, Conquistadora.[13][14]

Awards and honors[edit]

In addition to literary and community service awards, Ms. Santiago has earned a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and Honorary Doctor of Letters from Trinity College, from Pace University and from University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez.[15]


  • When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago (Paperback - October 1994)
  • Almost a Woman by Esmeralda Santiago (Paperback - October 1999)
  • Casi una mujer by Esmeralda Santiago (Paperback - October 1999)
  • América's Dream by Esmeralda Santiago (Author) (Paperback - May 1997)
  • Cuando era puertorriqueña by Esmeralda Santiago (Paperback - October 1994)
  • Las Mamis by Esmeralda Santiago (Editor), et al. (Hardcover - April 2000)
  • Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago (Author) (2011) (review, Washington Post, 30 Jy 2011, C-1)
  • El sueño de América by Esmeralda Santiago (Author) (Paperback - May 1997)
  • Las Christmas: Favorite Latino Authors Share Their Holiday Memories by Esmeralda Santiago (Contributor), et al. (Paperback - October 1999)
  • Las Christmas: escritores Latinos recuerdan las tradiciones navideñas by Esmeralda Santiago (Editor), Joie Davidow (Editor) (Paperback)
  • The Turkish Lover, autobiography, 2004
  • A Puerto Rican Stew, The New York Times Magazine, 1995

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "FAQ".
  2. ^ Rivera, Lilliam (April 11, 2019). "In Praise of Esmeralda Santiago" – via
  3. ^ Santiago's Page on
  4. ^ a b "How writer Esmeralda Santiago lost and then regained the ability to read". Washington Post.
  5. ^ Brenner, Elsa (August 8, 2004). "A Bicultural Life on Paper and in Film" – via
  6. ^ ""Almost a Woman"".
  7. ^ "Esmeralda Santiago: 2011 National Book Festival". Library of Congress – via
  8. ^ "Conversation: Esmeralda Santiago, Author of "Conquistadora"". PBS NewsHour. August 12, 2011.
  9. ^ "Esmeralda Santiago - Texas Conference for Women 2013" – via
  10. ^ Hurd, Suzette Grillot, Sarah. "Author Esmeralda Santiago Finds Identity Through Art".
  11. ^ Donahue, Joe. "The Creative Life: Esmeralda Santiago" – via WAMC.
  12. ^ "Esmeralda Santiago -".
  13. ^ Lee, Felicia R. (July 24, 2011). "Esmeralda Santiago's 'Conquistadora' Is a Puerto Rican Epic" – via
  14. ^ "Esmeralda Santiago Relearns How to Read".
  15. ^ "Biography". Retrieved 2019-03-13.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]