Julia Alvarez is a Dominican-American poet, novelist, and essayist. She rose to prominence with the novels How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), In the Time of the Butterflies (1994), and Yo! (1997). Her publications as a poet include Homecoming (1984) and The Woman I Kept to Myself (2004), and as an essayist the autobiographical compilation Something to Declare (1998).
She was bom on March 27,1950, in New York City, the oldest of four sisters, and moved with her family to the Dominican Republic shortly after her birth. When she was ten, her family left for the United States. Her mother Julia and her father Eduardo Alvarez Perello, a physician, were forced to flee from the Do-minican Republic after his involvement in a plot to overthrow the dictator Rafael Trujillo. She is part of a generation of Latino writers whose cultural consciousness reflects both her early years in the United States and a recollection of her parents' nostalgia for their island home. Alvarez remembers her early years growing up in the United States and her struggle to feel comfortable in the new culture one where, as a child, her family's language and appearance caused her some degree of embarrassment.
She received her early education in boarding schools, where through the encouragement of one teacher she acquired the habit of and love for reading and writing. While attending high school at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, she began to consider a career in writing. After high school she entered Connecticut College and transferred two years later to Middlebury College in Vermont, earning her Bachelor of Arts degree summa cum laude in 1971. In 1975 she received a Master's of Fine Arts degree from Syracuse University.
Although more widely known for her prose, Julia Alvarez began her literary career as a poet. From 1975 to 1978 she served as Poet-in-the-Schools in Kentucky, Delaware, and North Carolina. She was a professor of creative writing and English at her alma mater, Phillips Andover Academy (1979-81), at the University of Vermont (1981-83), and at the University of Illinois (1985-88). In addition, she was visiting writer and the Jenny McKean Moore Fellow at George Washington University in 1984, where she wrote and published her first book of poems, The Housekeeping Book. Her various teaching jobs finally led to a tenure-track position in 1988 when Middlebury College appointed her associate professor.
Her book How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents was followed by another literary success in 1994, In the Time of Butterflies, the fictionalized history of the Mirabal sisters whose underground name was "butterflies." These Dominican heroes and political martyrs were murdered after visiting their husbands, who were jailed by the Trujillo regime for their part in a plot to overthrow the government. The novel does not have a strong plot or dominant character, but is composed of a series of linked stories. This work has been praised not only for its lyrical quality but also for its depiction of Latina women not as passive and powerless, but with courage, strength, and humanity. It won Alvarez the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award and remains her best-known work.
Alvarez currently resides in the Champlain Valley in Vermont. She has served as a panelist, consultant, and editor, as a judge for literary awards such as the PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award and the Casa de las Américas Prize, and also gives readings and lectures across the country. She and her partner, Bill Eichner, an ophthalmologist, created Alta Gracia, a farm-literacy center dedicated to the promotion of environmental sustainability and literacy and education worldwide.