Although Julia Alvarez was born in New York City on March 27, 1950, her family moved to the Dominican Republic shortly after her birth, and it was there that she spent the majority of her childhood. In 1960, when Alvarez was ten years old, her family emigrated to the United States, fleeing the Dominican Republic because of Alvarez’s father’s involvement with an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Trujillo dictatorship. In New York, Alvarez received her education in boarding schools and realized while in high school that she wanted to pursue a career as a writer. In 1967, she began studying at Connecticut College; after two years, she transferred to Middlebury College where, in 1971, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree (summa cum laude). Alvarez also attended Syracuse University, from which she received her M.F.A. in 1975, and Bread Loaf School of English, where she took graduate courses in English and American literature. In the years since 1975, Alvarez has held various positions. From 1975 until 1978, she served as a writer-in-residence for Kentucky, Delaware, and North Carolina schools. She has taught creative writing and English at Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts (1979-81), University of Vermont (1981-83), and University of Illinois (1985-88). In 1984, she was the Jenny McKean Moore Visiting Writer at George Washington University. After serving as a professor at Middlebury College from 1988 to 1998, she is currently a writer-in-residence there.
Having spent the majority of her life in the United States, Alvarez considers herself an American, yet her writing bridges the realms of Latina and American culture. Her stories can often be traced to her Dominican roots, but they are flooded with insights about the human experience. She does not target her writing to a specific ethnic population; rather, she recognizes the similarities among all people and focuses her work in those commonalities. “I am a Dominican, hyphen, American,” she comments. “As a fiction writer, I find that the most exciting things happen in the realm of that hyphen–the place where two worlds collide or blend together” (Stavans 553). (See Mimicry, Ambivalence, and Hybridity) In her writing she strives to uncover the truths of human existence, truths that extend beyond any ethnic or gender barrier. In the words of Susan Miller, Alvarez “experiment[s] with the cross-fertilization of language and cultures” (77). Her works reflect the multiple identities she has assumed as a woman, a Latin American, and an American. For Alvarez, writing serves several purposes. She says, “I write to find out what I’m thinking. I write to find out who I am. I write to understand things” (Requa 2). Her responsibility to the reader lies in the expression of herself, in the sharing of the insights she has gleaned in her life. In an interview, she quotes Russian writer Anton Chekhov, who says, “The writer’s not there to solve the problem, but to state the problem correctly” (qtd. in Requa 2). Alvarez has done a tremendous job of stating the problem in her beautifully written novels. Through the captivating stories of her characters’ lives, she unveils such powerful issues as male chauvinism, the role of women under dictatorships, and the misogyny manifested in political structures (Stavans 555). Ilan Stavans describes Alvarez as daring “to turn the novel into a political artifact” (556). (See Chicana Feminism and Gender and Nation)
Awards and Honors
- Benjamin T. Marshall Poetry Prize from Connecticut College, 1968 and 1969
- Prize from Academy of American Poetry, 1974
- Creative writing fellowship from Syracuse University, 1974-75
- Kenan grant from Phillips Andover Academy, 1980
- Poetry award from La Reina Press, 1982
- Exhibition grant from Vermont Arts Council, 1984-85
- Robert Frost Poetry fellowship from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, 1986
- Third Woman Press Award, first prize in narrative, 1986
- Award for younger writers from General Electric Foundation, 1986
- Grant from National Endowment for the Arts, 1987-88
- Syndicated fiction prize from PEN, 1990
- Grant from Ingram Merrill Foundation, 1990
- Josephine Miles Award from PEN Oakland, 1991
- How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents selected as notable book by American Library Association, 1992
- Yo! selected as notable book by the American Library Association, 1998
- Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, 2002
- Belpre Medal for Before We Were Free, 2004
- Belpre Medal for Return to Sender, 2010
Works by Julia Alvarez
Fiction & Other Work
- —. Before We Were Free. New York: Knopf, 2002.
- —. A Cafecito Story. White River Junction: Chelsea Green, 2001.
- —. Finding Miracles. New York: Knopf, 2004.
- —. Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia. New York: Knopf, 2005.
- —. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1994.
- —. How Tia Lola Came to
visitStay. New York: Knopf, 2001.
- —. How Tia Lola Learned to Teach. New York: Knopf, 2010.
- —. How Tía Lola Saved the Summer. New York: Knopf, 2011.
- —. In the Name of Salomé, Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2000.
- —. In the Time of Butterflies. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1994.
- —. Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA. New York: Penguin, 2007.
- —. Return to Sender. New York: Knopf, 2009.
- —. Saving the World. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006.
- —. The Secret Footprint. New York: Knopf, 2001.
- —. Something to Declare. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1998.
- —. Yo! Plume, Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1997.
- —. Homecoming. New York: Grove Press, 1984.
- —. The Housekeeping Book. Burlington: CES MacDonald, 1984.
- —. Old Age Ain’t for Sissies. Ed. Sanford: Crane’s Creek Press, 1979.
- —. The Other Side/El Otro Lado. New York: Penguin Group, 1996.
- —. Seven Trees. Cambridge, MA: Kat Ran Press, 1998.
- —. The Woman I Kept to Myself. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004; 2011.
- Miller, Susan. “Family Spats, Urgent Prayer: Fiction: Celebrating the Strength of Latinas.” Newsweek (17 October 1994): 77.
- Requa, Marny. “The Politics of Fiction.” Fronter Magazine (3 November 1997).
- Stavans, Ilan. “Las Mariposas.” Nation (7 November 1994): 552-6.
- Venegas, Margarita. “Ethnic Roots, Love of Storytelling Fill Novels of Julia Alvarez.” Creative Loafing Online (21 March 1997).
Author: Susan Walker, Fall 1997 Last edited: May 2017