Alvarez Speaks on Writing

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Award-winning poet, novelist and essayist Julia Alvarez came to West Georgia on Sept. 22 to speak about her work and the craft of writing.

Award-winning poet, novelist and essayist Julia Alvarez came to West Georgia Wednesday to speak about her work and the craft of writing. “A book always wants - and remember this when your teachers ask you to rewrite something or revise something- a book always wants one more draft than you want to give it,” Alvarez said during a gathering at Kathy Cashen Hall.

“It's hard, hard, work,” she said. “But if it's what you want to do, there's pleasure in it.”

Perhaps Alvarez's most famous novel is In the Time of the Butterflies, The novel tells the story of the Mirabal sisters, founders of the underground movement against the Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo. The sisters, known as Las Mariposas (the Butterflies), were brutally murdered “on a lonely mountain road” in 1960, she said.

Alvarez told her audience she felt haunted by the Mirabal sisters because of her own family's story.

She was born in New York City when her parents fled the Trujillo dictatorship. But shortly after her birth, the family returned to the Dominican Republic, where her father became involved in a plot to murder Trujillo.

When the plot was discovered, the family fled again to New York. Alvarez was 10 years old then. Four months after her family arrived in New York, the Mirabal sisters were dead. Her own family was alive.

There were four Mirabal sisters. Alvarez was one of four sisters, she said. Three Mirabal sisters were murdered. The second-born Mirabal sister survived. She “lived on, to tell the story,” Alvarez said. Alvarez is the second-born sister of her family. She felt like was meant to write the book.

“I call it green lights,” she said.

The novel began when Alvarez was researching the sisters for a postcard series about heroines. 

She was supposed to write only a paragraph for the back of the postcard. But when she traveled to the Dominican Republic, the people she met led her to different pieces of the sisters' lives: the surviving sister; the home in which they grew up; the prison where they were locked up; the road where they died.

Alvarez saw the blue dress Patria Mirabal was wearing when she was murdered -- blood still stained the lap. She touched Maria Teresa's long black braid.

“It was like visiting a house that was haunted,” Alvarez said.  “I felt like they were all around…. I felt like I was connecting with the sisters.”

Students were eager to hear Alvarez; many arrived early and stayed to speak to her one-on-one.

Tamara Jean, 19, was among the first to arrive.

In Alvarez's collection of essays, Something to Declare, the writer speaks about the tug of different cultures, Jean said.

Jean can relate: Haitian by ethnicity, she is from Westbury, Long Island, a suburb just outside New York City. Jean, a second-year nursing student, graduated from Harrison High School in Cobb County.

“It was hard for her, at first, to fit it,” Jean said.

Coming to Georgia, “it was hard for me to find people who understood where I came from,” she said.

Alvarez read from her book In the Time of the Butterflies Wednesday, September 22, from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in the Coliseum.

In the Time of the Butterflies is this year's National Endowment for the Arts Big Read selection. The Big Read program is an effort to restore reading, for fun and enlightenment, to a prominent place in American culture.

 For more information about Ms. Alvarez go to: http://www.juliaalvarez.com/.