Sonia Manzano is a plenary speaker for the BUILD 2022 conference.
For over 40 years, Sonia Manzano inspired, educated, and delighted children and families as “Maria” on Sesame Street. Named among the “25 Greatest Latino Role Models Ever” by Latina Magazine, Manzano broke ground as one of the first Hispanic characters on national television. Throughout her career, she has continued to contribute to enriching diversity on television, on the stage, and in the educational realm. A first generation American of Latin descent, Manzano’s tale is one of perseverance and courage as she overcame countless obstacles to become one of the most influential Latinas in television.
Manzano was raised in the South Bronx, where her involvement in the arts was inspired by teachers who encouraged her to audition for the High School of Performing Arts. She was accepted there and began her career as an actress. A scholarship took her to Carnegie Mellon Univerisity in Pittsburgh, and in her junior year, she came to New York to star in the original production of the off-Broadway show Godspell. Within a year, Manzano joined the production of Sesame Street, where she eventually began writing scripts for the series. She was thrilled to help write the story line for “Maria’s” marriage and birth of “Maria’s” baby, played for a while by Manzano’s real-life daughter Gabriela.
Recently, Scholastic and Manzano partnered to launch two middle-grade novels and two picture books. Some of Manzano’s other books include her memoir, Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx (Scholastic), and a Christmas picture book, Miracle of 133rd Street (Simon & Schuster). Becoming Maria was praised by Kirkus Reviews for its “lyrical and unflinching account of her tough Nuyorican upbringing in the South Bronx,” and calls it a “touching memoir.” Kirkus Reviews says “Manzano lovingly details life-changing moments,” with a “stark and heartbreaking contrast to her Sesame Street character.” Manzano’s latest book is called A World Together, and it aims to promote unity by celebrating cultural and generational diversity. Her upcoming book, Coming Up Cuban, will be out in April of 2022. Coming Up Cuban is set in 1959 and follows the lives of four children who each represent different intersections of race and class in Cuba.
Sonia Manzano knows a thing or two about determination. Now a twice nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Series, Manzano didn’t have a lot of resources as a child growing up in the South Bronx. Immensely talented, Sonia never gave up. A staunch advocate for education, Manzano shares her extraordinary talent to help children to succeed. A fearless trailblazer, Manzano opened the doors for Latinas on screen. Infusing humor and charm into her presentations, Manzano inspires audiences with her passion, strength and insight into success. Whether speaking out for literacy, diversity, or addressing the issues children face in our media-saturated life, she is a familiar, engaging voice that brings new light to her roles and to our lives.