Alvarez, Julia (1950–)
Alvarez, Julia (1950–)
The Dominican American writer Julia Alvarez was born in New York City, returning shortly thereafter to the Dominican Republic, where she spent her early childhood. In 1960 her family immigrated to the United States, fleeing the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina and the threat caused by her father's involvement in antiregime activities. She was raised in New York.
Going against the grain of her Latino upbringing and its cultural expectations for women, Alvarez attended college and went on to pursue a career in writing. She received her B.A. summa cum laude from Middlebury College in 1971, and received her M.F.A. from Syracuse University in 1975. She taught English and creative writing in schools and universities while also holding various positions as a visiting writer. She became a professor in the English Department at Middlebury College in 1988, and was granted tenure in 1991. In 1998 she gave up her tenure to focus on writing, but she retains a position at the college as a writer-in-residence and adviser to Latino students.
Alvarez's work is greatly influenced by her own experiences as a Dominican exile and a "hyphenated American." She frames her alienation and assimilation as a cultural and linguistic predicament that is quite common among ethnic Americans. Such themes figure prominently in her semiautobiographical essays and poetry. In her books for young readers she translates bicultural and bilingual experiences into stories that help young Hispanic Americans understand their history, culture, and new language.
Alvarez earned acclaim in the early 1990s with her first two novels, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), which follows a Dominican family adjusting to their new life in the United States between the 1960s and 1980s, and In the Time of the Butterflies (1994), a fictionalized first-person account of the real-life Mirabal sisters, Dominican underground leaders who were brutally murdered by Trujillo's secret police. The metafictional and historiographic aspects of these novels are characteristic of her methodology; in the novels she has written since, she also imagines the perspectives and situations surrounding important Latin American historical and cultural events. All of her work is published in both English and Spanish editions.
Though Alvarez makes her home in Vermont, she and her husband have also established themselves in the Dominican Republic. Their finca, Alta Gracia, produces specialty coffees using organic sustainable farming methods and houses a school on site to promote literacy in the community.
Primary Works: Novels
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 1991.
In the Time of the Butterflies. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 1994.
¡Yo!. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 1997.
In the Name of Salomé. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2000.
A Cafecito Story. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2001.
Saving the World. Chapel Hill, NC: Shannon Ravenel, 2006.
Primary Works: Nonfiction
Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the U.S.A. New York: Viking, 2007.
Primary Works: Poetry
The Other Side/El Otro Lado. New York: Dutton, 1995.
Homecoming: New and Collected Poems. New York: Plume, 1996.
The Woman I Kept to Myself. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2004.
Primary Works: Essays
Something to Declare. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 1998.
Primary Works: For Young Readers
The Secret Footprints. New York: Knopf, 2000.
How Tía Lola Came to Visit. New York: Knopf, 2001.
Before We Were Free. New York: Knopf, 2002.
Finding Miracles. New York: Knopf, 2004.
A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia. New York: Knopf, 2005.
Johnson, Kelli Lyon. Julia Alvarez: Writing a New Place on the Map. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.
Sirias, Silvio. Julia Alvarez: A Critical Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001.
Lara B. Cahill