Skip to Main Content

Esmeralda Santiago

2013 Speaker

Esmeralda Santiago was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She came to the United States at thirteen, the eldest in a family that would eventually include eleven children. In 1977, she and her husband, Frank Cantor, founded CANTOMEDIA, a film and media production company, which has won numerous awards for excellence in documentary filmmaking. Her essays and opinion pieces have run in newspapers like the New York Times and the Boston Globe, and in magazines like House & Garden, Metropolitan Home and Sports Illustrated, and as guest commentary on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.

Upon publication of her first book, the memoir; “When I was Puerto Rican,” 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,” was published in six languages, and was an alternate selection of the Literary Guild. Her second memoir, “Almost a Woman,” received numerous “Best of Year” mentions, in addition to an Alex Award from the American Library Association. Her adaptation of the memoir into a film for PBS Masterpiece Theatre, was greeted with critical and audience acclaim and was awarded a George Foster Peabody award for excellence in broadcasting. Her third memoir, “The Turkish Lover,” has also received enthusiastic reviews. With Joie Davidow, Ms. Santiago is co-editor 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. She is also the author of the illustrated children’s book, “A Doll for Navidades.”

In addition to her literary endeavors, Ms. Santiago is an active volunteer. 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 people. Her community activism was cited when she received a Girl Scouts of America National Woman of Distinction award in March 2002 along with Alma Powell and Elizabeth Dole. Santiago has earned an M.A. in Fiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and Honorary Doctor of Letters from Trinity University, from Pace University, from Metropolitan College and from Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Mayagüez. Santiago also graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1976. @Esmo