Julia Alvarez was born on March 27, 1950, in New York. Her family returned to the Dominican Republic, where Alvarez spent the first ten years of her life in comfort, surrounded by an extended family. Alvarez’s grandfather, a cultural attaché to the United Nations, and her uncles, educated at Ivy League colleges, maintained their ties with the United States. Along with her sisters, Alvarez attended the American schools; in her words, she had an “American childhood” on the island.
From 1930 to 1961, the Dominican Republic was under the ruthless dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, a tyrant who had maintained his hold on power by unprecedented repression. As Trujillo’s thirst for absolute control bred further corruption, Alvarez’s father became involved in anti-Trujillo activities. Alvarez’s idyllic childhood came to an abrupt end when a plot to remove the dictator from power was unearthed. With the looming possibility of Dr. Alvarez’s arrest, the family left for the United States.
Life in Queens, New York, offered a stark contrast to the family’s earlier lifestyle. Her “American childhood” had not prepared the ten-year-old Julia for the realities of American life. She missed her friends and cousins and yearned to be accepted in school, but her accented English set her apart from others. In desperation, Alvarez turned to books and eventually writing, which became a substitute for her island home and initiated...
Alvarez takes her writing seriously; for her it is an important, life-saving activity. When she began her career, there were few authors in English writing about the Latino experience; she was inspired by Maxine Hong Kingston’s renowned book The Woman Warrior (1976). With her first successful novel, Alvarez opened the door for others who have enriched American literature with insights into the Hispanic world.
Initially focusing on the individual experience, Alvarez has gradually expanded her horizon. Her portrayal of the Dominican American world has a wide-ranging appeal. With her vivid and poetic language, she has captured the hearts and minds of her readers.
Shortly after Julia Altagracia Maria Teresa Alvarez was born in New York City, her family returned home to the Dominican Republic to live among their large, extended family. In 1960, her father took the family back to New York because he was wanted for his involvement in a failed plot to overthrow dictator Rafael Trujillo. Thereafter, Julia Alvarez lived in the United States, making visits to her extended family in the Dominican Republic. She married and became the mother of two children. Along with her husband, she became involved in the political life of the Dominican Republic.
After two years at Connecticut College (1967-1969), Alvarez transferred to Middlebury College, from which she graduated summa cum laude with her bachelor’s degree in 1971. She earned a master of fine arts degree from Syracuse University (1975) and attended the Bread Loaf School of English (1979-1980). Alvarez taught in poetry-in-the-schools programs in Kentucky, Delaware, and North Carolina (1977-1979). She has been an instructor of English at Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts (1979-1981), a visiting assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Vermont (1981-1983), the Jenny McKean Moore Visiting Writer at George Washington University (1984-1985), an assistant professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana (1985-1988), and an associate professor of English at Middlebury College (1988-1998). In 1998, she became a writer-in-residence at Middlebury College.
Although she was born in New York City, Julia Alvarez spent much of her childhood in the Dominican Republic. Her parents were from the island. Her mother came from a well-positioned and wealthy family, but her father was rather poor. The family’s divided economic position was tied to political problems within the Dominican Republic. Her father’s family, which once was wealthy, supported the wrong side during the revolution and her mother’s family benefited by supporting those who gained power. Julia’s family, although poorer than most of their relatives, enjoyed a privileged position in the Dominican Republic.
Although she was raised in the Dominican Republic, Alvarez describes her childhood as “an American childhood.” Her extended family’s power, influence, American connections, and wealth led to Alvarez’s enjoying many of the luxuries of America, including American food, clothes, and friends. When Alvarez’s father became involved with the forces attempting to oust the dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafaél Leonidas Trujillo Molina, the secret police began monitoring his activity. Immediately before he was to be arrested in 1960, the family escaped to America with the help of an American agent. In an article appearing in American Scholar (“Growing Up American in the Dominican Republic”) published in 1987, Alvarez notes that all her life she had wanted to be a true American girl. She thought, in 1960, that she was going to live in her homeland, America.
Living in America was not quite what Alvarez expected. As her fictional but partly autobiographical novel How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (Alvarez) hints, Alvarez was faced with many adjustments in America. She experienced homesickness, alienation, and prejudice. Going from living on a large family compound to living in a small New York apartment was, in itself, quite an adjustment. Alvarez’s feeling of loss when moving to America caused a change in her. She became introverted, began to read avidly, and eventually began writing.
Alvarez attended college, earning degrees in literature and writing. She took a position as an English professor at Middlebury College in Vermont. She has published several collections of poetry, but her best-known work is her semiautobiographical novel How the García Girls Lost Their Accents. Alvarez can be praised for her portrayal of bicultural experiences, particularly for her focusing on the women’s issues that arise out of such an experience.
Julia Alvarez was born Julia Altagracia Maria Teresa Alvarez in New York City in 1950, the second of four daughters, but her family returned to the Dominican Republic when she was still an infant. Her mother and her father, a doctor, both came from large, affluent Dominican families that had respect for and connections to the United States. Alvarez and her sisters grew up in a large and traditional extended family; she remembers the men going to work and the children being raised with their cousins by a large group of aunts and maids. She came to recognize the restrictions these women faced: One aunt was trained as a physician but did not practice; another aunt, known as the one who read books, was unconventional and unmarried. This “reading aunt” gave Alvarez a copy of the classic collection of folktales One Thousand and One Nights, introducing her to her “first muse,” Scheherazade, a princess who was dark-skinned and resourceful. Alvarez, fascinated by the possibilities of storytelling, would draw on her experiences with her aunts, maids, cousins, and siblings for several of her novels, notably How the García Girls Lost Their Accents.
Alvarez was ten years old when her father’s involvement in a plot to overthrow Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo was discovered. With the help of a U.S. agent, the family escaped and returned to New York City. Although Alvarez yearned for this “homecoming,” the adjustment was difficult for...
Although she was born in the United States, Julia Altagracia Maria Teresa Alvarez (AL-vah-rehz) spent her most formative years in the Dominican Republic, having moved there with her parents when she was less than a month old. In her parents’ native land, during her first decade of life, Alvarez was immersed in a rich culture through her exposure to an enormous extended family. Her father, the twenty-fifth legitimate child of her grandfather, not only had many sisters and brothers but also countless half sisters and half brothers, the fruits of his father’s extensive liaisons. The family, many of its members living in close proximity to one another, was a warm if somewhat unwieldy group whom Alvarez describes as being “shabbily genteel.” They, along with their servants (who in most cases had been with the family for years and were regarded almost as family), were inveterate storytellers. One of their greatest pleasures was to gather for family meals or family vacations, in the course of which they amused one another by weaving yarns, both fictional and real, to the delight of all who heard them. Alvarez, growing up in such an atmosphere, developed an early affinity for writing.
Living on their properties two hours out of the capital, the Alvarez family came under increasing political pressure from the regime of Generalisimo Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, the dictator who seized power in 1930 and became increasingly despotic as his reign continued. The Alvarezes had at first been tolerated by the Trujillo regime because the family appeared apolitical. (Julia’s grandfather had been the Dominican Republic’s delegate to the United Nations.) Her father, a physician, joined in a plot to overthrow Trujillo. After his involvement in this plot became known, he escaped the country with his family in August, 1960, shortly before a certain arrest and possible execution for his subversive activities.
The second of her parents’ four daughters, Julia was ten when she was abruptly uprooted, leaving a traditional Dominican culture in which the men went to work every day while the women, attended by servants, remained at home to raise their children. When the family arrived in New York, her father was not licensed to practice medicine in the United States (although after several years he was able to resume his profession), so they were suddenly reduced to a hand-to-mouth existence in a strange culture; a small, grubby apartment in Queens was their new home.
Alvarez relates much of their struggle in How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, a story that deals with another matter close to the author’s heart. One of the teachers in a Catholic school she attended in New York recognized Alvarez’s ability to use language well and encouraged her to master English. Alvarez did so but in the process began speaking Spanish...
Novelist Julia Alvarez could have died in the Dominican Republic, but her family escaped in time. Twice her parents had to flee to the United States to get away from the ruthless dictatorship of Raphael Trujillo. Alvarez’s father, who was involved in an underground movement to rid the Dominican Republic of Trujillo, was a target for assassination. Although Alvarez has lived most of her life in the States, she dedicates much of her writing to her Dominican roots. She escaped a devastating political regime in her country, learned to deal with prejudice against immigrants in the States, conquered a new language, and found a way to make a living through her most favorite thing to do—writing. Not only a great author, Alvarez is a survivor.
Alvarez’s first novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, was not published until the author was 41. “Be patient,” she tells young writers.
Alvarez lives on an organic farm with Bill Eichner. The couple have developed a sustainable co-operative in the Dominican Republic, where they also run a school to promote literacy.
Alvarez claims that having to learn a new language (English) when she was 10 years old helped her writing because she had to pay so much attention to words.
In 1998, Alvarez published a collection of essays, Something to Declare, covering details about her writing life, which she claims has not changed in the past decade.
Alvarez’s novel In the Time of the Butterflies is based on the lives of Dominican Republic women, founders of the underground group Alvarez’s father belonged to. These women were not as lucky as the Alvarez family. They were brutally murdered.
Alvarez was born in New York City on March 27, 1950, the second of four daughters. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to the Dominican Republic, where her parents were involved in an underground movement to overthrow Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. When the movement was discovered, the Alvarez family was forced to flee to escape imprisonment and possible death. They left the Dominican Republic on August 6, 1960, and moved to Queens, New York.
While living in New York, Alvarez had to perfect her English and adjust to life as an immigrant. She was alienated at school and subject to taunting from other students. As a result, she turned to reading for solace. These experiences proved important for her future writing. She writes in "A Brief Account of My Writing Life" for the Appalachian State University Summer Reading Program, "I came into English as a ten-year-old from the Dominican Republic, and I consider this radical uprooting from my culture, my native language, my country, the reason I began writing. 'Language is the only homeland.' Czeslow Milosz once observed, and indeed, English, not the United States, was where I landed and sunk deep roots."
Alvarez began attending a boarding school at age thirteen. By high school, she desired to become a writer. She was encouraged by teachers but not by her family. She explains to Jonathan Bing of Publishers Weekly part of her family's reasoning: "I grew up in that generation of women thinking I would keep house. Especially with my Latino background, I wasn't even expected to go to college.… I had never been raised to have a public voice." She pursued her writing interests at Connecticut College, however, where she won two prizes for her poetry in 1968 and 1969. She then attended Middlebury College in Vermont, where she won the Creative Writing Prize and graduated summa cum Iaude in 1971. She received an M.A. in creative writing from Syracuse University in 1975. While at Syracuse, she won the American Academy of Poetry Prize in 1974.
Between 1975 and 1977, she worked for the Kentucky Arts Commission, conducting poetry workshops throughout the state. In 1978, she worked in a National Endowment for the Arts bilingual program in Delaware and a program for senior citizens in North Carolina. From 1978 to 1988, she taught English and creative writing at a number of institutions. She began teaching at Middlebury College in 1988.
In 1984, she published Homecoming, a well-received collection of poetry. Her next major publication, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, appeared in 1991. This highly popular novel details the lives and struggles of four sisters who emigrated from the Dominican Republic to America. In 1994, she published In the Time of the Butterflies, which received much critical attention and praise. The following year, she published a second poetry collection entitled The Other Side: El Otro Lado. Her novel !Yo! appeared in 1997, and a collection of personal essays, Something to Declare, was published in 1998.
Alvarez married Bill Eichner, an ophthalmologist, in 1989, and she continues to write and teach at Middlebury College.