March 27, 1950 |
New York City, New York, USA
|Alma mater||Connecticut College,
Syracuse University, Middlebury College
|Notable awards||National Medal of Arts (2014)|
|Spouse||Bill Eichner (1989–present)|
Julia Alvarez (born March 27, 1950) is a Dominican-American poet, novelist, and essayist. Born in New York of Dominican descent, she spent the first ten years of her childhood in the Dominican Republic, until her father’s involvement in a political rebellion forced her family to flee the country.
Alvarez rose to prominence with the novels How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), In the Time of the Butterflies (1994), and Yo! (1997). Her publications as a poet include Homecoming (1984) and The Woman I Kept to Myself (2004), and as an essayist the autobiographical compilation Something to Declare (1998). Many literary critics regard her to be one of the most significant Latina writers and she has achieved critical and commercial success on an international scale.
Many of Alvarez’s works are influenced by her experiences as a Dominican in the United States, and focus heavily on issues of assimilation and identity. Her cultural upbringing as both a Dominican and an American is evident in the combination of personal and political tone in her writing. She is known for works that examine cultural expectations of women both in the Dominican Republic and the United States, and for rigorous investigations of cultural stereotypes. In recent years, Alvarez has expanded her subject matter with works such as In the Name of Salomé (2000), a novel with Cuban rather than solely Dominican characters and fictionalized versions of historical figures.
In addition to her successful writing career, Alvarez is the current writer-in-residence at Middlebury College.
Early life and education
Julia Alvarez was born in 1950 in New York City. When she was three-months-old, her family moved back to the Dominican Republic, where they lived for the next ten years. She grew up with her extended family in sufficient comfort to enjoy the services of maids. Critic Silvio Sirias believes that Dominicans value a talent for story-telling; Alvarez developed this talent early and was "often called upon to entertain guests". In 1960, the family was forced to flee to the United States after her father participated in a failed plot to overthrow the island’s military dictator, Rafael Trujillo, circumstances which would later be revisited in her writing: her novel How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, for example, portrays a family that is forced to leave the Dominican Republic in similar circumstances, and in her poem, "Exile", she describes "the night we fled the country" and calls the experience a "loss much larger than I understood".
Alvarez’s transition from the Dominican Republic to the United States was difficult; Sirias comments that she "lost almost everything: a homeland, a language, family connections, a way of understanding, and a warmth". She experienced alienation, homesickness, and prejudice in her new surroundings. In How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, a character asserts that trying to raise "consciousness [in the Dominican Republic]... would be like trying for cathedral ceilings in a tunnel".
As one of the few Latin American students in her Catholic school, Alvarez faced discrimination because of her heritage and was often called a "Spic!" by her classmates. This caused her to turn inward and led to her fascination with literature, which she called "a portable homeland". She was encouraged by many of her teachers to pursue writing, and from a young age, was certain that this was what she wanted to do with her life. At the age of 13, her parents sent her to a boarding school because the local schools were not considered sufficient. As a result, her relationship with her parents suffered, and was further strained when every summer she returned to the Dominican Republic to "reinforce their identities not only as Dominicans but also as proper young ladies". These intermittent exchanges between countries informed her cultural understanding, the basis of many of her works.
After graduating from Abbot Academy in 1967, she continued her studies at Connecticut College from 1967 to 1969 (where she won the Benjamin T. Marshall Poetry Prize), Middlebury College (1971), and Syracuse University (1975).
After acquiring a Master's degree in 1975, Alvarez took a position as a writer-in-residence for the Kentucky Arts Commission. She traveled throughout the state visiting elementary schools, high schools, colleges and communities, conducting writing workshops and giving readings. She attributes these years with providing her a deeper understanding of America and helping her realize her passion for teaching. After her work in Kentucky, she extended her educational endeavors to California, Delaware, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., and Illinois.
In addition to writing, Alvarez holds the position of writer-in-residence at Middlebury College, where she teaches creative writing on a part-time basis. Alvarez currently resides in the Champlain Valley in Vermont. She has served as a judge,[clarification needed] panelist, consultant, and editor, and also gives readings and lectures across the country. She and her partner, Bill Eichner, an ophthalmologist, created Alta Gracia, a farm-literacy center dedicated to the promotion of environmental sustainability and literacy and education worldwide. Alvarez and her husband purchased the farm in 1996 with the intent to promote cooperative and independent coffee-farming in the Dominican Republic.
Alvarez is regarded as one of the most critically and commercially successful Latina writers of her time. Her published works include five novels, a book of essays, four collections of poetry, four children’s books, and two works of adolescent fiction.
Among her first published works were collections of poetry; The Homecoming, published in 1984, was expanded and republished in 1996. Poetry was Alvarez’s first form of creative writing and she explains that her love for poetry has to do with the fact that "a poem is very intimate, heart-to-heart". Her poetry celebrates nature and the detailed rituals of daily life, including domestic chores. Her poems portray stories of family life and are often told from the perspective of women. She questions patriarchal privilege and examines issues of exile, assimilation, identity, and the struggle of the lower class in an introspective manner. She found inspiration for her work from a small painting from 1894 by Pierre Bonnard called The Circus Rider. Her poems, critic Elizabeth Coonrod Martínez suggests, give voice to the immigrant struggle.
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, Alvarez’s first novel, was published in 1991, and was soon widely acclaimed. It is the first major novel written in English by a Dominican author. A largely personal novel, the book details themes of cultural hybridization and the struggles of a post-colonial Dominican Republic. Alvarez illuminates the integration of the Latina immigrant into the U.S. mainstream and shows that identity can be deeply affected by gender, ethnic, and class differences. She uses her own experiences to illustrate deep cultural contrasts between the Caribbean and the United States. So personal was the material in the novel, that for months after it was published, her mother refused to speak with her; her sisters were also not pleased with the book. The book has sold over 250,000 copies, and was cited as an American Library Association Notable Book.
Released in 1994, her second novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, has a historical premise and elaborates on the death of the Mirabal sisters during the time of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. In 1960 their bodies were found at the bottom of a cliff on the north coast of the island, and it is said they were a part of a revolutionary movement to overthrow the oppressive regime of the country at the time. These legendary figures are referred to as Las Mariposas, or The Butterflies. This story portrays women as strong characters who have the power to alter the course of history, demonstrating Alvarez’s affinity for strong female protagonists and anti-colonial movements. As Alvarez explains, "I hope that through this fictionalized story I will bring acquaintance of these famous sisters to English speaking readers. November 25, the day of their murders is observed in many Latin American countries as the International Day Against Violence Toward Women. Obviously, these sisters, who fought one tyrant, have served as models for women fighting against injustices of all kinds."
In 1997, Alvarez published Yo!, a sequel to How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, which focuses solely on the character of Yolanda. Drawing from her own experiences, Alvarez portrays the success of a writer who uses her family as the inspiration for her work. Yo! could be considered Alvarez’s musings on and criticism of her own literary success. Alvarez’s opinions on the hybridization of culture are often conveyed through the use of Spanish-English malapropisms, or Spanglish; such expressions are especially prominent in How the García Girls Lost Their Accents. Alvarez describes the language of the character of Laura as "a mishmash of mixed-up idioms and sayings".
In the Name of Salomé (2000) is a novel that weaves together the lives of two distinct women, illustrating how they devoted their lives to political causes. It takes place in several locations, including the Dominican Republic before a backdrop of political turbulence, Communist Cuba in the 1960s, and several university campuses across the United States, containing themes of empowerment and activism. As the protagonists of this novel are both women, Alvarez illustrates how these women, "came together in their mutual love of [their homeland] and in their faith in the ability of women to forge a conscience for Out Americas." This book has been widely acclaimed for its careful historical research and captivating story, and was described by Publishers Weekly as "one of the most politically moving novels of the past half century.."
Influence on Latin American literature
Alvarez is regarded as one of the most critically and commercially successful Latina writers of her time. As Elizabeth Coonrod Martínez observes, Alvarez is part of a movement of Latina writers that also includes Sandra Cisneros and Cristina García, all of whom weave together themes of the experience of straddling the borders and cultures of Latin America and the United States. Coonrod Martínez suggests that a subsequent generation of Dominican-American writers, such as Angie Cruz, Loida Maritza Pérez, Nelly Rosario, and Junot Díaz, have been inspired by Alvarez’s success.
Alvarez admits "the bad part of being a 'Latina Writer' is that people want to make me into a spokesperson. There is no spokesperson! There are many realities, different shades and classes".
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents is the first novel by a Dominican-American woman to receive widespread acclaim and attention in the United States. The book portrays ethnic identity as problematic on several levels. Alvarez challenges commonly held assumptions of multiculturalism as strictly positive. She views much of immigrant identity as greatly affected by ethnic, gendered, and class conflict. According to critic Ellen McCracken, "Transgression and incestuous overtones may not be the usual fare of the mainstream’s desirable multicultural commodity, but Alvarez’s deployment of such narrative tactics foregrounds the centrality of the struggle against abuse of patriarchal power in this Dominican American’s early contribution to the new Latina narrative of the 1990s."
Regarding the women’s movement in writing, Alvarez explains, "definitely, still, there is a glass ceiling in terms of female novelists. If we have a female character, she might be engaging in something monumental but she’s also changing the diapers and doing the cooking, still doing things which get it called a woman’s novel. You know, a man’s novel is universal; a woman’s novel is for women."
Alvarez claims that her aim is not simply to write for women, but to also deal with universal themes that illustrate a more general interconnectedness. She explains, "What I try to do with my writing is to move out into those other selves, other worlds. To become more and more of us." As an illustration of this point, Alvarez writes in English about issues in the Dominican Republic, using a combination of both English and Spanish. Alvarez feels empowered by the notion of populations and cultures around the world mixing, and because of this identifies as a "Citizen of the World".
Grants and honors
Alvarez has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ingram Merrill Foundation. Some of her poetry manuscripts now have a permanent home in the New York Public Library, where her work was featured in an exhibit, "The Hand of the Poet: Original Manuscripts by 100 Masters, From John Donne to Julia Alvarez." She received the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1974, first prize in narrative from the Third Woman Press Award in 1986, and an award from the General Electric Foundation in 1986.
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents was the winner of the 1991 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award for works that present a multicultural viewpoint. Yo! was selected as a notable book by the American Library Association in 1998. Before We Were Free won the Belpre Medal in 2004, and Return to Sender won the Belpre Medal in 2010. She also received the 2002 Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature.
List of works
|Library resources about
|By Julia Alvarez|
- How the García Girls Lost Their Accents. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 1991. ISBN 978-0-945575-57-3
- In the Time of the Butterflies. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 1994. ISBN 978-1-56512-038-9
- Yo!. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 1997. ISBN 978-0-452-27918-6
- In the Name of Salomé. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2000. ISBN 978-1-56512-276-5
- Saving the World: A Novel. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2006. ISBN 9781565125100(2006)
Children’s and young adult
- The Secret Footprints. New York: Knopf, 2000.
- A Cafecito Story. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2001. ISBN 978-1-931498-00-5
- How Tia Lola Came to
visitStay. New York: Knopf, 2001. ISBN 978-0-375-90215-4
- Before We Were Free. New York: A. Knopf. 2002. ISBN 978-0-375-81544-7.
- Finding Miracles. New York: Knopf, 2004. ISBN 978-0-375-92760-7
- A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia. New York: Knopf. 2005. ISBN 978-0-375-82425-8.
- El mejor regalo del mundo: la leyenda de la Vieja Belen / The Best Gift of All: The Legend of La Vieja Belen. Miami: Alfaguara, 2009. (bilingual book)
- Return to Sender. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2009. ISBN 978-0-375-85838-3.
- How Tia Lola Learned to Teach. New York: Knopf. 2010. ISBN 978-0-375-86460-5.
- How Tía Lola Saved the Summer. New York: Knopf. 2011. ISBN 978-0-375-86727-9.
- How Tia Lola Ended Up Starting Over. New York: Knopf, 2011.
- The Other Side (El Otro Lado), Dutton, 1995, ISBN 978-0-525-93922-1
- Homecoming: New and Selected Poems, Plume, 1996, ISBN 978-0-452-27567-6 - reissue of 1984 volume, with new poems
- The Woman I Kept to Myself, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004; 2011, ISBN 978-1-61620-072-5
- Something to Declare, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1998, ISBN 978-1-56512-193-5 (collected essays)
- Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA. Penguin. 2007. ISBN 978-0-670-03873-2.
- A Wedding in Haiti: The Story of a Friendship 2012.
- Palomo, Elvira (2 August 2014). "Julia Álvarez: La literatura ejercita la imaginación y el corazón" (in Spanish). Washington, D. C.: Listín Diario. EFE. Retrieved 2 August 2014.
- Trupe 2011, p. 5.
- Dalleo & Machado Saéz 2007, p. 135
- Alvarez 1998, p. 116
- Sirias 2001, p. 1
- Day 2003, p. 33
- Dalleo & Machado Saéz 2007, p. 4
- Day 2003, p. 40
- Sirias 2001, p. 2
- Alvarez 2005, p. 121
- Julia Alvarez. "About Me:Julia Alvarez". Retrieved 25 October 2011.
- Sirias 2001, p. 3
- Johnson 2005, p. 18
- Sirias 2001, p. 4
- Day 2003, p. 41
- "Café Alta Gracia – Organic Coffee from the Dominican Republic". Cafealtagracia.com. Retrieved 2008-10-13.
- Sirias 2001, p. 5
- Coonrod Martínez 2007, p. 9
- Dalleo & Machado Saéz 2007, p. 131
- Dalleo & Machado Saéz 2007, p. 133
- Kevane 2001, p. 23
- "Celebrating The Phillips Collection’s 90th Birthday". NPR. 2010-01-04. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
- Coonrod Martínez 2007, p. 11
- Augenbraum & Olmos 2000, p. 114
- Dalleo & Machado Saéz 2007, p. 137
- Frey 2006
- McCracken 1999, p. 80
- McCracken 1999, p. 139
- Sirias 2001, p. 17
- Day 2003, p. 45
- Dalleo & Machado Saéz 2007, p. 144
- Dalleo & Machado Saéz 2007, p. 142
- Dalleo & Machado Saéz 2007, p. 143
- Kafka 2000, p. 96
- Day 2003, p. 44
- Coonrod Martínez 2007, p. 8
- Sirias 2001, p. 6
- McCracken 1999, p. 31
- McCracken 1999, p. 32
- Qtd. in Coonrod Martínez 2007, pp. 6, 8
- Kevane 2001, p. 32
- "Julia Alvarez", Bookreporter.com, The Book Report, retrieved 2008-11-11
- Julia Alvarez Biography, Emory University, retrieved 2008-12-04
- The Pura Belpré Award winners, American Library Association, retrieved 2010-09-26
- 2010 Author Award Winner, American Library Association, retrieved 2010-09-26
- "Hispanic Heritage Awards for Literature". Hispanic Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
- Alvarez, Julia (1998), Something to Declare.
- Alvarez, Julia (2005), How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, New York: Plume, ISBN 978-0-452-28707-5.
- Augenbraum, Harold F; Olmos, Margarite, eds. (2000), U.S. Latino Literature: A Critical Guide for Students and Teachers, New York: Greenwood Press, ISBN 978-0-313-31137-6.
- Coonrod Martínez, Elizabeth (March–April 2007), "Julia Alvarez: Progenitor of a Movement", Americas 59 (2): 6–13, retrieved 2008-11-15.
- Dalleo, Raphael; Machado Sáez, Elena (2007), The Latino/a Canon and the Emergence of Post-Sixties Literature, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 978-1-4039-7796-0.
- Day, Frances A. (2003), Latina and Latino Voices in Literature: Lives and Works (Updated and expanded ed.), New York: Greenwood Press, ISBN 978-0-313-32394-2.
- Frey, Hillary (April 23, 2006), "To the Rescue. Review of Saving the World", The New York Times, retrieved 2008-11-02.
- Johnson, Kelli Lyon (2005), Julia Alvarez: Writing a New Place on the Map, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, ISBN 978-0-8263-3651-4.
- Kafka, Philippa (2000), "Saddling La Gringa": Gatekeeping in Literature by Contemporary Latina Writers, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, ISBN 978-0-313-31122-2.
- Kevane, Bridget (2001), "Citizen of the World: An Interview with Julia Alvarez", in Kevane, Bridget A.; Heredia, Juanita, Latina Self-Portraits: Interviews with Contemporary Women Writers, Tucson, AZ: University of New Mexico Press, pp. 19–32, ISBN 978-0-8263-1972-2.
- Kevane, Bridget (2008), Profane and Sacred: Latino/a American Writers Reveal the Interplay of the Secular and the Religious, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 978-0-7425-4315-7.
- McCracken, Ellen (1999), New Latina Narrative: The Feminine Space of Postmodern Ethnicity, Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona, ISBN 978-0-8165-1941-5.
- Sirias, Silvio (2001), Julia Alvarez: A Critical Companion, Westport, CT: Greenwood, ISBN 978-0-313-30993-9.
- Trupe, Alice (30 March 2011). Reading Julia Alvarez. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-313-38395-3.