¡Mira, Look!: Julia Alvarez

My comrade in blog, Katrina, told me that Before We Were Free and Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez have been two of our most popular Educator Guides/Books, she suggested that a look into this wonderful author would be a great ¡Mira, Look! piece … I’m sure she’s right!

Julia Alvarez, the Dominican-American author, has penned over 20 books, won numerous awards (including 2 Pura Belpres for Before We Were Free and Return to Sender and a Hispanic Heritage Literature Award), and is widely considered to be one of the most influential and important Latina writers today.

Born in New York City, Alvarez’s parents moved back to the Dominican Republic (D.R.) when she as 3 months old, “preferring the dictatorship of Trujillo to the U.S.A. of the early 50s” (which is quite the statement in and of itself). Her father was an activist in the underground and 10 years later they were forced to flee. (The Mirabal Sisters, co-founders of the underground, were murdered by the Trujillo regime shortly after her family fled. Check out her book, In the Time of Butterflies based off this story. There’s also a movie if you’d like to watch it after you read this fantastic book).

The struggles, successes and experience of coming to the US at age 10 have largely shaped Alvarez’s stories. She states,”When I’m asked what made me into a writer, I point to the watershed experience of coming to this country. Not understanding the language, I had to pay close attention to each word — great training for a writer. I also discovered the welcoming world of the imagination and books. There, I sunk my new roots” (Author’s Web site).

Gaining her Master’s in Creative Writing, Julia taught for most of her adult life at Middlebury College and didn’t land her first book contract until she was in her 40s (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents for you curious minds out there). Alvarez has continued to write, teach and be an activist for sustainable living even starting a sustainable farm and literacy project in the D.R. with her husband, Bill. (Learn all about it and even order their coffee, which, if you’re anything like me, that’s the fifth cup in your hand today, at: Cafe Alta Gracia).

I think Alvarez’s stories are so captivating because she is another one of these great Latino/a writers who writes from experience. She really taps in to what it was like for her growing up Dominican/American in the D.R. and   American/Dominican in the U.S. She struggled to speak the language, to fit in. She escaped to books to learn about this culture she was trying to meld into and out of that, books gave her a voice to then give to others. This is why young adult Latin American literature is so crucial: we have so many kids with similar experiences, seeking a way to know, to fit in, to have a voice. Alvarez’s books (along with the other incredible authors highlighted on this blog and others) offer young adults that voice, that chance, that escape that could actually lead them to their identity. I urge you to pick up any one of Alvarez’s books, escape to find yourself.

Escaping and finding,


For our Educator Guides to Before We Were Free and Return To Sender click here. Her new book A Wedding in Haiti is out now. Check it out!)

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