Rosario, Nelly 1972-

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ROSARIO, Nelly 1972-

PERSONAL: Born 1972, in the Dominican Republic; partner of John Olmo; children: Olivia. Education: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, B.S.; Columbia University, M.F.A.

ADDRESSES: Home—Brooklyn, NY. Agent—Watkins Loomis Agency, 133 East 35th St., Suite 1, New York, NY 10016.

CAREER: Writer.

AWARDS, HONORS: National Teachers of English writing award, 1988; Hurston/Wright Award in Fiction, 1997; Barbara Deming Memorial Fund fellowship, 1999; Van Lier fellowship, Bronx Writers' Center, 1999-2000; two National Arts Club writing fellowships; named a Writer on the Verge, Voice Literary Supplement; PEN Open Book Award, 2002, for Song of the Water Saints,.


Song of the Water Saints, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor to periodicals, including Village Voice, and to anthologies, including Becoming American, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.

SIDELIGHTS: Nelly Rosario was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Brooklyn. Her debut novel, Song of the Water Saints, also begins in the Dominican Republic in 1916, during its occupation by the United States. It is the story of four generations of women, with the most emphasis placed on the first. In a New York Times Book Review article, James Polk stated that the narrative of this "canny first novel moves in fits and starts; the elements don't always connect or add up to a coherent whole. Sort of like life." Minneapolis Star Tribune reviewer John Freeman remarked that Song of the Water Saints, "deftly explores what families pass down and what they toss aside."

Graciela is a young, street-smart girl who will do whatever it takes to survive. She and her lover, Silvio, strike a deal with a pornographer to let him film them having sex, which sets the stage for the rest of her life. Silvio, a sailor, goes to sea and never returns, leaving her to raise their daughter, Mercedes. Graciela remarries, to Casimiro, who is a good father to Mercedes, but her restlessness finds her in bed with a disease-carrying partner, and the end of her life is then assured. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that Graciela "could have sustained the entire story, and her spirit hangs over every page after her death."

In reviewing the book for, Sarah Egelman commented that Graciela "is a unique character who Rosario places in challenging situations.

Rosario is able to handle Graciela's often brutal experiences with grace and understanding. Despite her circumstances, Graciela's dreams and imaginings never are ignored or belittled." Egelman called the novel "sensual and emotionally honest."

Mercedes is intelligent and independent like her mother, but is determined to improve her lot in life. With a head for numbers, she marries a man with whom she begins a business, and in the 1980s, they immigrate to New York City, moving from a life of rural poverty to one of urban poverty. There Mercedes takes on the job of raising the child of her daughter, Amalfi, and with Leila, the story comes full circle, for she, like her great-grandmother, is hot-blooded and willful, putting herself in the same sort of danger in New York as Graciela did in the Dominican Republic.

Village Voice writer Achy Obejas noted that "though magic plays a role in the culture of the story through fortunetellers, mystical signs, and the title's enigmatic water saints, Rosario remains rooted in reality. There are no flights into other, more perfect or terrifying realms."

Rosario was interviewed by an Urban Latino writer who asked how she incorporated the immigrant experience into her novel. She replied, "I don't know if there's this definitive immigrant experience, since every immigrant fits differently into the society she arrives to, depending on nationality, class, race, gender. In this novel, I wanted to explore characters in two countries that raised me. Immigration plays a role simply because it's a pivotal point in Dominican history, and my characters are Dominican—they can't help but be affected by their historical context." Rosario, who has a degree in engineering, said that she is exploring the idea of writing a novel that "will delve more into science and the future."



Booklist, February 15, 2002, Kristine Huntley, review of Song of the Water Saints, p. 994.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2001, review of Song of the Water Saints, p. 1715.

Library Journal, January, 2002, Rebecca Stuhr, review of Song of the Water Saints, p. 154.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 9, 2002, Bernadette Murphy, review of Song of the Water Saints, p. E3

New York Times Book Review, June 16, 2002, James Polk, review of Song of the Water Saints, p. 24.

Publishers Weekly, January 21, 2002, review of Song of the Water Saints, p. 61.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), March 10, 2002, John Freeman, review of Song of the Water Saints.

Urban Latino, December, 2001, interview with Rosario.

Village Voice, April 24, 2002, Achy Obejas, review of Song of the Water Saints.


BookPage, (February, 2003), Kelly Koepke, review of Song of the Water Saints., (December 10, 2002), Sarah Egelman, review of Song of the Water Saints.*