Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Julia Alvarez  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Fiction History Non-Fiction Poetry

Audience: Adult; Young Adult; Children;

Born: 1950 in New York City, NY

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Illinois Connection

Alvarez was an Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Illinois in Urbana from 1985 - 1988. While there, she taught beginning and advanced fiction and poetry workshops as well as courses on women's studies and minority/ethnic literature.

Biographical and Professional Information

Julia Alvarez is an author, a poet, novelist, and essayist. Born in New York, she spent the first ten years of her childhood in the Dominican Republic. A few years after moving back to the United States, Alvarez started attending Abbot Academy; graduating in 1967. From there, she attended Connecticut College from 1967 to 1969 and then transferred to Middlebury College, where she obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1971. She then went on to Syracuse University where she received her master's in 1975.Alvarez then took a position as a writer-in-residence for the Kentucky Arts Commission. She traveled throughout the state visiting elementary schools, high schools, colleges and communities, conducting writing workshops and giving readings. She attributes these years with providing her a deeper understanding of America and helping her realize her passion for teaching. After her work in Kentucky, she extended her educational endeavors to California, Delaware, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., and Illinois.Today, Alvarez is regarded as one of the most critically and commercially successful Latina writers of her time. She currently resides in Champlain Valley, Vermont.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

Return to Sender
ISBN: 0375851232

Yearling. 2010

An award-winning, moving, and timely story about the families of undocumented workers by renowned author Julia Alvarez.

After Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm from foreclosure. Tyler isn’t sure what to make of these workers. Are they undocumented? And what about the three daughters, particularly Mari, the oldest, who is proud of her Mexican heritage but also increasingly connected to her American life. Her family lives in constant fear of being discovered by the authorities and sent back to the poverty they left behind in Mexico. Can Tyler and Mari find a way to be friends despite their differences?

In a novel full of hope, but with no easy answers, Julia Alvarez weaves a beautiful and timely story that will stay with readers long after they finish it.

Winner of the Pura Belpré Award
Winner of the Américas Award
An NCSS-CBC Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies

“A must-read.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Communicates in compassionate and expressive prose the more difficult points of perhaps the most pressing social issue of our day.” —San Antonio Express-News

“This timely novel, torn right from the newspaper headlines, conveys a positive message of cooperation and understanding.” —School Library Journal

“The plot is purposive, with messages about the historical connections between migrant workers today and the Indians’ displacement, the Underground Railroad, and earlier immigrants seeking refuge. . . . The questions raised about the meaning of patriotism will spark debate.” —Booklist

“A tender, well-constructed book.” —Publishers Weekly

Saving the World (Shannon Ravenel Books (Paperback))
ISBN: 1565125584

A Shannon Ravenel Book. 2007

Latina novelist Alma Huebner is suffering from writer's block and is years past the completion date for yet another of her bestselling family sagas. Her husband, Richard, works for a humanitarian organization dedicated to the health and prosperity of developing countries and wants her help on an extended AIDS assignment in the Dominican Republic. But Alma begs off joining him: the publisher is breathing down her neck. She promises to work hard and follow him a bit later. The truth is that Alma is seriously sidetracked by a story she has stumbled across. It's the story of a much earlier medical do-gooder, Spaniard Francisco Xavier Balmis, who in 1803 undertook to vaccinate the populations of Spain's American colonies against smallpox. To do this, he required live "carriers" of the vaccine. Of greater interest to Alma is Isabel Sendales y Gmez, director of La Casa de Expsitos, who was asked to select twenty-two orphan boys to be the vaccine carriers. She agreed- with the stipulation that she would accompany the boys on the proposed two-year voyage. Her strength and courage inspire Alma, who finds herself becoming obsessed with the details of Isabel's adventures. This resplendent novel-within-a-novel spins the disparate tales of two remarkable women, both of whom are swept along by machismo. In depicting their confrontation of the great scourges of their respective eras, Alvarez exposes the conflict between altruism and ambition.

In the Name of Salome
ISBN: 0452282438

Plume. 2001

"The story of my life starts with the story of my country... ." Thus begins Julia Alvarez's epic fictional account of the real-life Salom Urea-the "Emily Dickinson of the Dominican Republic." Born in the 1850s, in a time of intense political repression and turmoil, Salom's fervent patriotic poems turned her-at seventeen-into a national icon. In the Name of Salom is equally the story of Salom's daughter, Camila, who grows up in exile, in the shadow of her mother's legend. Shy and self-effacing, Camila's life is in stark contrast to Salom's. While her mother dedicated her brief life to educating Dominican girls to serve their struggling new nation, Camila spent her career explaining the Spanish pluperfect to upper-class American girls. But when, at age sixty-six, Camila makes a decision to leave her comfortable life behind and join Castro's revolution in Cuba, she begins a journey to make peace with her past-and bring the lives of two remarkable women full circle.

Spanning more than a century, In the Name of Salom proves Alvarez equally adept at capturing the sweep of history and the most intimate details of women's lives and hearts. It is Alvarez's richest and most inspiring novel to date.

ISBN: 0452279186

Plume. 1997

At last! A zesty, exuberant follow-up to the wildly popular How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, full of Julia Alvarez's keen observations and tender affection for her characters.

The Garcia Girls are back, most notably Yolanda, or Yo, who has grown up to be a writer. In the process, she has managed to get kicked out of college, break more than a few hearts, have her own heart broken many times, return for extended visits to the Dominican Republic her family fled when she was a child, and marry three times. She has also infuriated her entire family by publishing the intimate details of their lives as fiction.

The injured parties--her mother, her sisters, the Dominican cousins, the maid?s daughter, her teachers, her lover, want to tell their side of the story, and !Yo! hands the microphone to them. Cousin Lucinda shrugs off Yo's characterization of her as a "Latin American Barbie" with "a size three soul," saying, "Looking at her in her late 30s, knocking around the world without a husband, house, or children, I think you are the haunted one who ended up living your life mostly on paper."

This brilliant novel is a full and true exploration of a woman's soul, a meditation on the writing life, and a lyrical account of the immigrant's search for identity and a place in the world. !Yo!'s bright colors, zesty dialogue, warm feeling, and genuine insight could only come from the palette of Julia Alvarez.

In the Time of the Butterflies
ISBN: 1565129768

Algonquin Books. 2010

It is November 25, 1960, and three beautiful sisters have been found near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official state newspaper reports their deaths as accidental. It does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it explain that the sisters were among the leading opponents of Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. It doesn’t have to. Everybody knows of Las Mariposas―“The Butterflies.”

In this extraordinary novel, the voices of all four sisters―Minerva, Patria, María Teresa, and the survivor, Dedé―speak across the decades to tell their own stories, from hair ribbons and secret crushes to gunrunning and prison torture, and to describe the everyday horrors of life under Trujillo’s rule. Through the art and magic of Julia Alvarez’s imagination, the martyred Butterflies live again in this novel of courage and love, and the human cost of political oppression.

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
ISBN: 156512975X

Algonquin Books. 2010

“Simply wonderful.” —Los Angeles Times

Acclaimed writer Julia Alvarez’s brilliant and buoyant and beloved first novel gives voice to four sisters recounting their adventures growing up in two cultures. Selected as a Notable Book by both the New York Times and the American Library Association, it won the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for books with a multicultural perspective and was chosen by New York librarians as one of twenty-one classics for the twenty-first century. Ms. Alvarez was recently honored with the 2013 National Medal of Arts for her extraordinary storytelling.

In this debut novel, the García sisters—Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofía—and their family must flee their home in the Dominican Republic after their father’s role in an attempt to overthrow a tyrannical dictator is discovered. They arrive in New York City in 1960 to a life far removed from their existence in the Caribbean. In the wild and wondrous and not always welcoming U.S.A., their parents try to hold on to their old ways, but the girls try find new lives: by forgetting their Spanish, by straightening their hair and wearing fringed bell bottoms. For them, it is at once liberating and excruciating to be caught between the old world and the new. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents sets the sisters free to tell their most intimate stories about how they came to be at home—and not at home—in America.

“A joy to read.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer

The Woman I Kept to Myself
ISBN: 1616200723

A Shannon Ravenel Book. 2011

The works of this award-winning poet and novelist are rich with the language and influences of two cultures: those of the Dominican Republic of her childhood and the America of her youth and adulthood. They have shaped her writing just as they have shaped her life. In these seventy-five autobiographical poems, Alvarez’s clear voice sings out in every line. Here, in the middle of her life, she looks back as a way of understanding and celebrating the woman she has become.

Homecoming: New and Collected Poems
ISBN: 0452275679

Plume. 1996

Long before her award winning novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, and In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez was writing poetry that gave a distinctive voice to the Latina woman-and helped give to American letters a vibrant new literary form. Homecoming, was Alvarez's first published collection of poetry, a work of great subtlety and power in which the young poet returned to her old-world childhood in the Dominican Republic.Now this revised and expanded edition adds thirteen new poems. These more recent writings are still deeply autobiographical in nature, but written with the edgier, more knowing tone of a woman who has seen, and survived, more of life. Wonderfully lucid and engaging, toned with deep emotionality and a wry observation of life, the poems of Julia Alvarez stand next to her fiction to both delight us and give us lessons in living and loving.

The Other Side/El Otro Lado
ISBN: 0452273412

Plume. 1996

The New York Times Book Review has praised Alvarez’s fiction as “powerful . . . beautifully captures the experience of the new immigrant’s doorway where a memory is not yet the past and the future is still a dream.” anxious These same qualities characterize her poetry—from the “Making Up the Past” poems, which explore a life of exile as lived by a young girl, to “The Joe Poems,” a series of beautifully sensual and funny love poems that celebrate a middle-aged romance. The collection culminates in the poem of the title: the twenty-one-part epic about the poet’s return to her native Dominican Republic, and to the internal affirmation of the conflict and the last one that the trip caused. Innovation and bold invention, the interaction of sound, the senses, and the rhythm of two languages, all characterize Julia Alvarez’s art in transforming precious memory into unforgettable poetry.

La revisión de libro de los tiempos de Nueva York ha elogiado la ficción de Alvarez's mientras que "powerful... captura maravillosamente la experiencia del umbral del nuevo inmigrante donde no está todavía una memoria el pasado y el futuro sigue siendo un dream." ansioso Estas mismas calidades caracterizan su poesía - del "Making encima del Past" poemas, que exploran una vida del exilio según lo vivido por una muchacha joven, a los poemas de Joe del "The, " una serie maravillosamente de poemas sensual y divertidos del amor que celebran un romance de mediana edad. La colección culmina en el poema del título de la veinte-uno-parte sobre la vuelta de poet's a su República Dominicana nativa y a la afirmación interna del conflicto y última que el viaje ocasionó. La innovación y la invención en negrilla, la interacción del sonido, el sentido, y el ritmo de dos idiomas, todas caracterizan el arte de Julia Alvarez's en transformar memoria preciosa en poesía unforgettable.

A Wedding in Haiti (Shannon Ravenel Books (Paperback))
ISBN: 1616202807

Algonquin Books. 2013

In a story that travels beyond borders and between families, acclaimed Dominican novelist and poet Julia Alvarez reflects on the joys and burdens of love―for her parents, for her husband, and for a young Haitian boy known as Piti. In this intimate true account of a promise kept, Alvarez takes us on a journey into experiences that challenge our way of thinking about history and how it can be reimagined when people from two countries―traditional enemies and strangers―become friends.

Once Upon a Quinceanera: Coming of Age in the USA
ISBN: 0452288304

Plume. 2008

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, a “phenomenal, indispensable” (USA Today) exploration of the Latina “sweet fifteen” celebration, by the bestselling author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of Butterflies

The quinceañera, a celebration of a Latina girl’s fifteenth birthday, has become a uniquely American trend. This lavish party with ball gowns, multi-tiered cakes, limousines, and extravagant meals is often as costly as a prom or a wedding. But many Latina girls feel entitled to this rite of passage, marking a girl’s entrance into womanhood, and expect no expense to be spared, even in working-class families. Acclaimed author Julia Alvarez explores the history and cultural significance of the “quince” in the United States, and the consequences of treating teens like princesses. Through her observations of a quince in Queens, interviews with other quince girls, and the memories of her own experience as a young immigrant, Alvarez presents a thoughtful and entertaining portrait of a rapidly growing multicultural phenomenon, and passionately emphasizes the importance of celebrating Latina womanhood.

Something to Declare: Essays
ISBN: 161620558X

Algonquin Books. 2014

“Julia Alvarez has suitcases full of history (public and private), trunks full of insights into what it means to be a Latina in the United States, bags full of literary wisdom.” —Los Angeles Times From the internationally acclaimed author of the bestselling novels In the Time of the Butterflies and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents comes a rich and revealing work of nonfiction capturing the life and mind of an artist as she knits together the dual themes of coming to America and becoming a writer. The twenty-four confessional, evocative essays that make up Something to Declare are divided into two parts. “Customs” includes Alvarez’s memories of her family’s life in the Dominican Republic, fleeing from Trujillo’s dictatorship, and arriving in America when she was ten years old. She examines the effects of exile--surviving the shock of New York City life yearning to fit in training her tongue (and her mind) to speak English and watching the Miss America pageant for clues about American-style beauty. The second half, “Declarations,” celebrates her passion for words and the writing life. She lets us watch as she struggles with her art--searching for a subject for her next novel, confronting her characters, facing her family’s anger when she invades their privacy, reflecting on the writers who influenced her, and continually honing her craft. The winner of the National Medal of Arts for her extraordinary storytelling, Julia Alvarez here offers essays that are an inspiring gift to readers and writers everywhere. “This beautiful collection of essays . . . traces a process of personal reconciliation with insight, humor, and quiet power.” —San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle “Reading Julia Alvarez’s new collection of essays is like curling up with a glass of wine in one hand and the phone in the other, listening to a bighearted, wisecracking friend share the hard-earned wisdom about family, identity, and the art of writing.” —People

Where Do They Go?
ISBN: 1609806700

Triangle Square. 2016

Bestselling novelist (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents) and children's (The Tia Lola Stories) author Julia Alvarez's new picture book is a beautifully crafted poem for children that gently addresses the emotional side of death. The book asks, "When somebody dies, where do they go? / Do they go where the wind goes when it blows? ... Do they wink back at me when I wish on a star? Do they whisper, 'You're perfect, just as you are'? ..." Illustrated by Vermont woodcut artist, Sabra Field, Where Do They Go? is a beautiful and comforting meditation on death, asking questions young readers might have about what happens to those they love after they die.

A Spanish-language edition of the book, Donde va a parar?, is available in paperback.

How Tia Lola Saved the Summer (The Tia Lola Stories)
ISBN: 0375866876

Yearling. 2012

Miguel Guzman isn't exactly looking forward to the summer now that his mother has agreed to let the Sword family—a father, his three daughters, and their dog—live with them while they decide whether or not to move to Vermont. Little does Miguel know his aunt has something up her sleeve that just may make this the best summer ever. With her usual flair for creativity and fun, Tía Lola decides to start a summer camp for Miguel, his little sister, and the three Sword girls, complete with magical swords, nighttime treasure hunts, campfires, barbecues, and an end-of-summer surprise!

The warm and funny third book in the Tía Lola Stories is sure to delight young readers and leave them looking forward to their own summer fun!

From the Hardcover edition.

How Tia Lola Ended Up Starting Over (The Tia Lola Stories)
ISBN: 0375873201

Yearling. 2012

Welcome to Tía Lola's bed and breakfast! With the help of her niece and nephew and the three Sword Sisters, Tía Lola is opening the doors of Colonel Charlebois' grand old Vermont house to visitors from all over. But Tía Lola and the children soon realize that running a B & B isn't as easy they had initially thought—especially when it appears that someone is out to sabotage them! Will Tía Lola and the kids discover who's behind the plot to make their B & B fail? And will Tía Lola's family and friends be able to plan her a surprise birthday party in her own B & B without her finding out?

With the release of this Yearling edition, all four Tía Lola Stories are now available in paperback.

How Tia Lola Learned to Teach (The Tia Lola Stories)
ISBN: 0375857923

Yearling. 2011

Tía Lola has been invited to teach Spanish at her niece and nephew’s elementary school. But Miguel wants nothing to do with the arrangement. He hasn’t had an easy time adjusting to his new school in Vermont and doesn’t like living so far away from Papi, who has a new girlfriend and an announcement to make. On the other hand, Miguel’s little sister, Juanita, can’t wait to introduce her colorfully dressed aunt with her migrating beauty mark to all her friends at school—that is, if she can stop getting distracted long enough to remember to do so. Before long, Tía Lola is organizing a Spanish treasure hunt and a Carnaval fiesta at school. Will Miguel be willing to join the fun? Will Juanita get her head out of the clouds and lead her classmates to victory in the treasure hunt?
Told with abundant humor and heart, Julia Alvarez’s new Tía Lola story is the long-awaited sequel to the beloved How Tía Lola Came to Visit Stay.

From the Hardcover edition.

El mejor regalo del mundo: la leyenda de la Vieja Belen / The Best Gift of All: The Legend of La Vieja Belen Bilingual Edition (Spanish Edition) (Spanish and English Edition)
ISBN: 1622631498

Alfaguara infantil. 2013

La Vieja Beln es un personaje del folclor dominicano que llega a las pginas de este libro, de la mano de la autora Julia Alvarez, para ensearles a lectores de todas las edades y de cualquier rincn del mundo, una hermosa leccin sobre la generosidad y las prioridades de la vida...Mira mucho al cielo en su largo viajar, y suspira siempre, siempre, al recordar lo que aprendi un da con aquellos reyes: el mejor regalo es el tiempo que entregues.

English Description:Renowned Latina author Julia Alvarez recreates the legend of Dominican folk character La Vieja Belen in this delighful bilingual rhyming story, beautifully illustrated by Dominican artist Ruddy Nunez. Alvarez s retelling keeps the magic of the traditional account while contributing a down-to-earth, timely moral: Of all the gifts you can give, your time is the best.

A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia
ISBN: 0375824251

Knopf Books for Young Readers. 2005

After their olive crop fails, Maria fears that her family will have to abandon their farm on the new island colony. Then, one night she dreams of a mysterious beautiful lady shrouded by trees with branches hung with hundreds of little suns. They are oranges like the ones Maria's parents once ate in their homeland, Valencia, Spain. That very day Maria and her family plant the seeds that soon yield a magnificent orange grove and save the farm. But who was the mysterious lady who appeared in her dream and will Maria ever find her again?

Finding Miracles
ISBN: 0553494066

Laurel Leaf. 2006

MILLY KAUFMAN IS an ordinary American teenager living in Vermont—until she meets Pablo, a new student at her high school. His exotic accent, strange fashion sense, and intense interest in Milly force her to confront her identity as an adopted child from Pablo’s native country. As their relationship grows, Milly decides to undertake a courageous journey to her homeland and along the way discovers the story of her birth is intertwined with the story of a country recovering from a brutal history.

Beautifully written by reknowned author Julia Alvarez, Finding Miracles examines the emotional complexity of familial relationships and the miracles of everyday life.

Before We Were Free (Laurel-Leaf Books Readers Circle)
ISBN: 044023784X

Laurel Leaf. 2004

Anita de la Torre never questioned her freedom living in the Dominican Republic. But by her 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated to the United States, her Tío Toni has disappeared without a trace, and the government’s secret police terrorize her remaining family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo’s dictatorship.

Using the strength and courage of her family, Anita must overcome her fears and fly to freedom, leaving all that she once knew behind.

From renowned author Julia Alvarez comes an unforgettable story about adolescence, perseverance, and one girl’s struggle to be free.

How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay (The Tia Lola Stories)
ISBN: 0440418704

Yearling. 2002

A delightfully entertaining story of family and culture from acclaimed author Julia Alvarez.

Moving to Vermont after his parents split, Miguel has plenty to worry about! Tía Lola, his quirky, carismática, and maybe magical aunt makes his life even more unpredictable when she arrives from the Dominican Republic to help out his Mami. Like her stories for adults, Julia Alvarez’s first middle-grade book sparkles with magic as it illuminates a child’s experiences living in two cultures.

A Cafecito Story / El cuento del cafecito
ISBN: 1931498067

Chelsea Green Publishing. 2002

A Cafecito Story is a story of love, coffee, birds and hope. It is a beautifully written eco-fable by best-selling author Julia Alvarez. Based on her and her husband's experiences trying to reclaim a small coffee farm in her native Dominican Republic, A Cafecito Story shows how the return to the traditional methods of shade-grown coffee can rehabilitate and rejuvenate the landscape and human culture, while at the same time preserving vital winter habitat for threatened songbirds.

Not a political or environmental polemic, A Cafecito Story is instead a poetic, modern fable about human beings at their best. The challenge of producing coffee is a remarkable test of our ability to live more sustainably, caring for the land, growers, and consumers in an enlightened and just way. Written with Julia Alvarez's deft touch, this is a story that stimulates while it comforts, waking the mind and warming the soul like the first cup of morning coffee. Indeed, this story is best read with a strong cup of organic, shade-grown, fresh-brewed coffee.

The Secret Footprints
ISBN: 0440417473

Dragonfly Books. 2002

The Dominican legend of the ciguapas, creatures who lived in underwater caves and whose feet were on backward so that humans couldn't follow their footprints, is reinvented by renowned author Julia Alvarez. Although the ciguapas fear humans, Guapa, a bold and brave ciguapa, can't help but be curious--especially about a boy she sees on the nights when she goes on the land to hunt for food. When she gets too close to his family and is discovered, she learns that some humans are kind. Even though she escapes unharmed and promises never to get too close to a human again, Guapa still sneaks over to the boy's house some evenings, where she finds a warm pastelito in the pocket of his jacket on the clothesline.

From the Hardcover Library Binding edition.


Return to Sender

  • Pura Belpre Award, American Library Association, 2010
  • Americas Award for Children and Young Adult's Literature, National Consortium for Latin American Studies Program, 2010
  • Finalist, YALSA Award, American Library Association
  • In the Time of Butterflies

  • ''The Big Read'' Book Selection, National Endowment for the Arts
  • One of 21 Classics for the 21st Century, New York Libraries
  • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

  • PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award, 1991
  • One of 21 Classics for the 21st Century, New York Libraries
  • ''The Big Read'' Book Selection, National Endowment for the Arts, 2010
  • YO!

  • Notable Book, American Library Association, 1998
  • One Upon a Quinceaera

  • Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award, 2008
  • How Ta Lola Came to Visit Stay

  • Little Read Book Selection, Lenoir-Rhyne University, Hickory, North Carolina, 2010
  • How Ta Lola Learned to Teach

  • Back-to-School Reading list, The Horn Book, 2013
  • Best of the Best List, Chicago Public Library, 2010
  • Winter 2011 Kids' Indie Next List, IndieBound
  • Before We Were Free

  • Best Book, American Library Association, 2002
  • Pura Belpre Award, American Library Association, 2002
  • The Best Gift of All

  • Honorable Mention, Amricas Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature, 2009
  • Body of Work

    Speaking Engagements

    Speaking Engagement Availability (Yes)