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Julia Alvarez: 1950—: Author

From Latina To "gringa"

Although Alvarez was born in New York City on March 27, 1950, soon after her birth her parents returned to their native home of the Dominican Republic, where her father, a doctor, ran a local hospital. The second of four sisters, she was reared close to her mother's family, amidst a slew of cousins, aunts, uncles, and maids. When Alvarez was ten years old, her father became actively involved in the underground coalition poised to overthrow dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina. As a result, the police set up surveillance on their home and Alvarez's father was warned by an American agent that his arrest was imminent. To avoid this fate the family fled the country.

Their destination was New York, where Alvarez's father had secured a fellowship at a hospital. For Alvarez, the mystique of the United States loomed large in her ten-year-old mind. "All my childhood I had dressed like an American, eaten American foods, and befriended American children," Alvarez told American Scholar. "I had gone to an American school and spent most of the day speaking and reading English. At night, my prayers were full of blond hair and blue eyes and snow.… All my childhood I had longed for this moment of arrival. And here I was, an American girl, coming home at last."

Once the plane landed in New York, Alvarez's story-book image of life in the United States was quickly shattered by the harsh realities of life as an immigrant. Uprooted from her culture, her native language, and extended family, Alvarez, once a vivacious child who made friends easily, became introverted. Her father took her to a library, and Alvarez discovered her love for the written word. "Back home, I had been a very poor student, a tomboy, and a troublemaker, so my father was eager to encourage this new trend in [me]," she told Library Journal. Books became her new home. She explained to Frontera Magazine, "Coming to this country I discovered books, I discovered that it was a way to enter into a portable homeland that you could carry around in your head. You didn't have to suffer what was going on around you. I found in books a place to go."

At a Glance . . .

Born on March 27, 1950, in New York, NY. Education: Connecticut College, 1968–69; Middlebury College, B.A., 1971; Syracuse University, M.A., 1975.

Career: KY Arts Commission, writer-in-residence, 1975–77; California State Coll. (Fresno) and Coll. of the Sequoias, Visalia, CA, English instructor, 1977; DE Arts Council, writer-in-residence, 1978; NEA, writer-in-residence, Fayetteville, NC, 1978; Phillips Andover Academy, Andover, MA, English instr., 1979–81; Univ. of VT, English Dept., visiting assistant prof., 1981–83; George Washington Univ., Jenny McKean Moore Visiting Writer, 1984–85; Univ. of IL, asst. prof., 1985–88; Middlebury Coll., asst. prof., 1988–96, professor, 1996–98, writer-in-residence, 1998–.

Membership: Academy of American Poets; the Associated Writing Programs; Poets & Writers; the Latin American Writers' Institute.

Awards: Benjamin T. Marshall Poetry Prize, Connecticut Coll., 1968, 1969; The Acad. of Amer. Poetry Prize, Syracuse Univ., 1974; La Reina Press, Creative Writing Award, poetry, 1982; Third Woman Press Award, first prize, 1986; General Electric Foundation Award for Younger Writers, 1986; PEN Syndicated Fiction Prize, 1987; Notable Book, New York Times Book Review, 1991; PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award; Notable Book, ALA, 1992, 1994; Book of the Month Club choice, 1994; National Book Critics' Award finalist in fiction, 1995; In The Time of Butterflies chosen as one of the Best Books for Young Adults, Young Adult Lib. Services Assn. and ALA, 1995; Reader's Choice Award, "Coco Stop," 1994; Amer. Poetry Review's Jessica Nobel-Maxwell Poetry Prize, 1995; Literature Leadership Award, Dominico-American Soc. of Queens, Inc., 1998; Semana Cultural y Festival Dominicano (Boston), Woman of the Year, 2000; Latina Magazine, Woman of the Year, 2000.

Addresses: Office—English Department, Munroe Hall 111, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT 05753. (802) 443-5276. Agent—Susan Bergholtz Literary Services, 17 West 10th St., No. 5, New York, NY 10011-8769.

At the age of 13 Alvarez left home to attend boarding school. Already an avid reader, she realized her desire to write after an English teacher gave her class a writing assignment, asking them to write an essay about themselves. What began as homework turned into self-discovery. Years later Alvarez reflected that it was her feelings of alienation and displacement that pushed her toward a life as an author. She is fond of quoting exiled Polish poet Czeslow Milosz, who said, "Language is the only homeland." By the time she had reached high school, Alvarez knew with certainty that she wanted to become a writer.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: (Hugo) Alvar (Henrik) Aalto (1898–1976) Biography to Miguel Angel Asturias (1899–1974) BiographyJulia Alvarez: 1950—: Author Biography - From Latina To "gringa", Student, Itinerant Poet, And Teacher, Poet And Author