Lewis Center Past Fellows
Erika L. Sánchez
Erika L. Sánchez is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. A poet, novelist, and essayist living in Chicago, her debut poetry collection, Lessons on Expulsion, was published by Graywolf in summer 2017, and her debut young adult novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, was released by Knopf Books for Young Readers in fall 2017. She was recently named a 2017-2019 Princeton Arts Fellow.
Erika grew up in the Mexican working class town of Cicero, Illinois, which borders the city’s southwest side. In fact, her childhood apartment was so close to Chicago that she could hit it with her shoe if she flung it out the window. (Maybe she tried this, maybe she didn’t.)
As a daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants, Erika has always been determined to defy borders of any kind. And, not surprisingly, her clothes perpetually smelled of fried tortillas when she was a child. Her role model was—and continues to be—Lisa Simpson. As a result, she was a young and sometimes overbearing (but in a cute way?) feminist and overachiever. Ever since she was a 12-year-old nerd in giant bifocals, she’s dreamt of becoming a successful writer.
Erika graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude from the University of Illinois at Chicago, then went onto Madrid, Spain, on a Fulbright Scholarship. There she wrote poems late into the night, taught English at a secondary school, and ate a medley of delicious cured meats. After her scholarship, Erika moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico. She did not love Albuquerque but was pleased with the clear skies and ample parking. She graduated with distinction.
Since graduate school, Erika has received a CantoMundo Fellowship, Bread Loaf Scholarship, and the 2013 “Discovery”/Boston Review Prize. In 2015, Erika was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from The Poetry Foundation.
Erika’s strange and vivid poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many prestigious literary journals, including Pleiades, Hunger Mountain, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Ostrich Review, Copper Nickel, Vinyl Poetry, Guernica, diode, Boston Review, ESPN.com, the Paris Review, Gulf Coast, and POETRY Magazine. Her poetry has also been featured on “Latino USA” on NPR and published in Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poems for the Next Generation (Viking 2015).
In the fall of 2014, the Guild Complex of Chicago invited Erika and four other writers to participate in Kapittel, the International Festival of Literature and Freedom of Speech in Stavanger, Norway where she met incredible exiled writers from around the world and ate pickled fish for breakfast.
From 2012-2015 Erika was the sex and love advice columnist for Cosmopolitan for Latinas. She loves giving women feminist, sex positive advice. And no, she is not the “Latina Carrie Bradshaw.” Seriously, please don’t call her that. Erika has also contributed to a variety of top tier publications, such as The Guardian, NBC News, Rolling Stone, Al Jazeera, Truthout, Salon, BuzzFeed, Cosmopolitan, Jezebel, Kirkus Reviews, and The Huffington Post. Her articles have been republished all around the world and have been translated into several languages. She has been profiled by NBC News and has appeared on National Public Radio on many occasions. Her essay, “Crying in the Bathroom,” is forthcoming in the anthology Double Bind: Women on Ambition (Liveright 2017), which includes work by Roxane Gay, Molly Ringwald, and Ayana Mathis.
Erika is fluent in Spanish, Spanglish, and “cat.” She volunteers her time as a senior leader for young women in a lay Buddhist organization, and in addition to her journalism and creative writing, she works as an independent consultant focused on social justice, particularly sexual health and reproductive rights. She has a socially awkward cat who is named after the two best Simones in history—Nina and de Beauvoir. Simone does not live up to her name (she’s not very bright), but she’s adorable and sweet, which is good enough.
Erika is represented by the wonderful literary agent, Michelle Brower, and is currently working on a collection of personal essays.
FEATURE STORY FOR PBS
“Five Poets Offer Eloquent Views of the American Experience” Book Review for Lessons on Expulsion | nytimes.com
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter on NYT Young Adult Bestseller List, Nov. 5, 2017 | nytimes.com
“Erika Sánchez to receive 2018 21st Century Award from Chicago Public Library” | Chicago.suntimes.com
The 2018 PEN America Literary Awards Finalists | PEN.org
“Erika L. Sánchez: Perfectly Imperfect,” featured on Articulate for PBS, Season 4, November 20, 2018
“In best-selling ‘I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,’ Erika Sánchez hits crucial chord” | NBCnews.com
Sánchez Awarded a 2019 Creative Writing (Poetry) Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts | www.arts.gov