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About the author

[The following text is excerpted from The Big Read's Reader's Guide on In the Name of the Butterflies, reprinted courtesy of the National Endowment for the Arts.]


Julia Alvarez (b. 1950)

Although Julia Alvarez was born in New York City, her family moved back to the Dominican Republic when she was only three months old. The family was relatively wealthy and lived comfortably until 1960, when authorities discovered that Alvarez's father belonged to an underground effort to overthrow Trujillo's regime. Fearing for their safety, the Alvarezes fled back to the United States. Just three months later, the Mirabal sisters—founders of the underground—were murdered.

                                                                                 Photo of Julia Alvarez and Dede Mirabal

Julia Alvarez and Dedé Mirabal (Courtesy of Dedé Mirabal)


Alvarez, her parents, and her three sisters made their home in a small apartment in New York City. Despite the racism of some classmates, Alvarez enjoyed learning English and credits the experience with helping her become a writer. As she explains, "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."

 

After high school, Alvarez earned her bachelor's degree from Middlebury College, and her master's degree in creative writing from Syracuse University. She had been teaching at Middlebury College for three years when her first novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), was published. The book received widespread acclaim and enabled her to pursue writing as a full-time career. She was 41 years old.

 

Alvarez lives with her husband, Bill Eichner, in Vermont. In 1998, the couple founded Finca Alta Gracia, a farm and literacy center located east of Pico Duarte, the highest peak in the Dominican Republic. Workers there cultivate environmentally sustainable shade-grown organic coffee, the sale of which supports a school on the farm where children and adults can learn to read.

 

"I found in literature a place where the table was set for all. Everybody was welcome. I found true democracy in reading."
—Julia Alvarez


[This text is excerpted from The Big Read's Reader's Guide on In the Name of the Butterflies, reprinted courtesy of the National Endowment for the Arts.]

 

Click here to read excerpts from a 2009 interview with Julia Alvarez.

 

If you would like to read books that inspire Julia Alvarez, you might try:

  • The Arabian Nights (collected works, various authors/translators)
  • Leaves of Grass (1855) by Walt Whitman
  • Middlemarch (1871-1872) by George Eliot
  • The Woman Warrior (1975) by Maxine Hong Kingston
  • Disgrace (1999) by J.M. Coetzee