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Esmeralda Santiago        

Award-Winning Author & Documentary Filmmaker

Esmeralda Santiago is the eldest of eleven children. She came to the United States from rural Puerto Rico at age thirteen. Her family settled in Brooklyn, where she had to learn English and brave her way through an oppressive urban environment, a cold climate, and a challenging new culture. Her transcultural experiences growing up poor and disenfranchised inspires her writing and forms the backbone of three memoirs, two novels, two anthologies, numerous essays, and the children’s book A Doll for Navidades. Her books have been translated into fifteen languages.

Upon publication of the ground-breaking memoir When I was Puerto Rican, Santiago was hailed as “...a welcome new voice, full of passion and authority.” (Washington Post). Her second memoir, Almost a Woman, received numerous “Best of Year” mentions and an Alex Award from the American Library Association. Her adaptation of the memoir into a film for PBS Masterpiece Theatre was critically acclaimed and received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting. Her third memoir The Turkish Lover is about the struggle to leave home and forge an authentic bi-lingual and bi-cultural identity which was described as “an earthy, heartfelt tale of liberation, desperation, and the crippling grip of love” (Booklist). Santiago’s first novel, América's Dream is described by the Chicago Tribune as “Thrilling and page-turning, the fabulous story of América Gonzalez…is laid out masterfully.” Her epic historical novel Conquistadora became a national best seller. Publishers Weekly said that “Santiago brings passion, color, and historical detail to this Puerto Rican Gone With The Wind.”

Esmeralda Santiago graduated Magna cum Laude from Harvard University, earned an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and has Honorary Doctorates from four universities. She has served on the boards of The Jacob Burns Film Center, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and the PEN American Center. Santiago is passionate about supporting the artistic development of young people by teaching them about media literacy and encouraging them to value their experience and tell their own stories. She is a spokesperson on behalf of public libraries and has travelled the world as a cultural ambassador for the State Department.

Speech Topics


Creating a Life

Approachable and sympathetic, Santiago engages audiences as she weaves stories from her eclectic life: how she learned English, her years of part-time study in community colleges, transfer to and graduation from Harvard University, years as a small business owner, and rise as an author of powerful, life affirming memoirs and novels. Santiago's Q&A sessions often bring testimony from listeners. Laughter and tears commingle in her inspirational presentations.

Stroke by Stroke

Santiago was in the middle of writing her latest, and most challenging work, Conquistadora, when she had a stroke that left her unable to comprehend what she read or wrote. In this moving presentation, Santiago describes how, on her own, she re-learned to read and write in English and in Spanish so that she could finish her book.

Writing a Life

When I Was Puerto Rican

Bi-lingual Dreamer

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