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Julia Alvarez: 1950—: Author - Poet And Author

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In 1984 Alvarez published her first collection of poetry, Homecoming, featuring a 33-sonnet sequence entitled "33." The poem, which fills nearly have the book, is exercise in self-examination carried out by Alvarez, who at the age of 33, found herself confronting middle age with no permanent home, no family of her own, and no specific career plan. The poems in Homecoming often focus on the search for love and the pain of failed relationships, with such verse offerings as "Are we all ill with acute loneliness,/chronic patients trying to recover/the will to love?" In the section entitled "Housekeeping," Alvarez delves into the meaning found in mundane daily tasks, such as folding clothes, sweeping, washing windows, and making bread. In 1996 Alvarez published an expanded edition, Home-coming: New and Collected Poems, this time featuring 46 sonnets to match her age at the time.

In 1991 she published her first novel, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents. In many ways a fictional account of Alvarez's own experiences, the book is a series of 15 interrelated stories about a family from the Dominican Republic who immigrates to the United States. Like Alvarez's family, the García family consists of four sisters, Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia. The story, which covers a 33-year span, examines the struggles of the girls-turned-women as they attempt to reestablish their identity after leaving their privileged social standing in the Dominican Republic to forge new lives as immigrants in the United States. Alvarez received high praise for How the García Girls Lost Their Accent; Ilan Stavans in Commonweal referred to it as a "delightful novel, a tour de force that holds a unique place in the context of the ethnic literature from which it emerges."

In 1994 Alvarez published her second novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, a 300-page fictional account of the lives of three sisters, Patria, Minerva, and Maria Terese (Mate) Mirabal, who were assassinated in 1960 during the last days of the Trujillo dictatorship, just four months after Alvarez and her family had fled the country. Revered for their martyrdom, they are known in the Dominican Republic as las mariposas, meaning the butterflies, which served as their code name during the resistance. Upon its publication, Kay Pritchett noted in World Literature Today, "With In the Time of the Butterflies a superb, heartrending story, Julia Alvarez has again displayed her fine talent as a novelist. Especially noteworthy is her ability to maintain an equilibrium between the political and the human, the tragic and the lyrical. What we remember most is not the harshness of the times but the Butterflies themselves, along with a delicious flavor of their homeland." In 1999 Showtime produced the film version of In the Time of the Butterflies.

The Other Side/El Otro Lado, Alvarez's second collection of poems, was published in 1995. The poems, organized into five sections, lyrically follow Alvarez through her journeys as a Latina immigrant. She begins with the poem "Bilingual Sestina," an account of leaving the Dominican Republic to enter a new land of strange language and cultural. Alvarez ends the collection having come full circle back to her native land in the title poem "The Other Side/El Otro Lado," in which she writes, "There is nothing left to cry for,/nothing left but the story/of our family's grand adventure/from one language to another." This collection of poems introduced Alvarez's poetry to many readers who had only previously known her fiction.

Alvarez's third novel, ¡Yo!, published in 1997, is a continuation and an elaboration of the life of Yolanda from How the García Girls Lost Their Accent. Whereas the other sisters have made peace with their lives as Dominican-Americans, Yolanda still feels torn between two cultures. Her life in the United States has taught her independence and assertiveness, which made her a female oddity in her native land. Yet despite her failings, Alvarez leaves room in her tale for Yolanda to seek redemption and find wisdom.


Something to Declare, published in 1998, is a nonfiction accounting of Alvarez's personal experiences of both alienation and assimilation as a "hyphenated American," along with a rendering of her life as a writer and teacher. In a People Weekly review, Laurie Jamison wrote, "A likable storyteller, [Alvarez] also writes with candor and humor about her picky eating habits, her decision not to have children and her vagabond life as a writer and teacher." Alvarez titled her book Something to Declare after having decided that most questions posed to her by her readers can be summed up as "Do you have anything more to declare?' These 24 autobiographical stories are her response.

Alvarez returned to historical fiction in In the Name of Salomé, published in 2000. The novel, which covers more than 100 years, tells the story of Salomé Urena de Henriquez, the nineteenth-century poet laureate of the Dominican Republic, and her daughter, Camila Henriquez Urena. Salomé, who is considered a national hero because of her patriotic and revolutionary poems, died of tuberculosis when her daughter was three years old. Struggled with her mother's death, Camila was taught by her aunt to end her prayers with the irreverent yet comforting saying, "In the name of the Father, the Son, and my Mother, Salomé." Publishers Weekly referred to it as "one of the most moving political novels of the past half century."


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