On July 28th, 2014, I was at the White House to receive the National Medal of Arts from President Obama. I was thrilled, but overwhelmed with big feelings. As I said to any number of people: by this stage in life, we know that we don't get to be who we are without the investments and contributions of so many people, hundreds of "invisible hands," helping us along the way.
Border of Lights
With a bright and beautiful new red cover, A Wedding in Haiti is now out in paperback! Not only that, but the official publication date for the Spanish edition Una boda en Haití is June 5, 2013 (but I hear it is available for preorder now). Find out more about my latest book:
"I am a virgin blogger! I've never done a blog-blog before. I hesitate because, I actually have blogged before, but not intentionally, and what I was doing was not called by that name...
"But now I am an official blogger for five days at Powell's. Every day you will get a fresh blog entry, promise. And since I'm on tour with my new nonfiction book, A Wedding in Haiti: The Story of a Friendship, I thought I'd share a few of the little back stories that went into writing this book..."
On November 4, 2011, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and the Vermont Arts Council presented me with the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts at the Vermont Arts Gala in Montpelier. Writing for me is all about the work. The farmer next door has his sheep, and I do my writing. I've never liked the segregation of "being an artist." I'd rather have my work fit into the weave of the community. This is just my job. When something like this happens, I'm always surprised. . . and grateful!
Mariposa Girls Leadership Program
The Mariposa DR Foundation won The First Annual Girl Effect Challenge in November 2011. I am on the advisory board of the Mariposa DR Foundation and I was so happy to see them earn a spot under the Girl Effect umbrella and receive a portion of the funding from the Nike Foundation for the next year. The Mariposa Girls Leadership Program educates, empowers and employs girls living in extreme poverty in the Dominican Republic -- setting them off on the path to become active leaders for social change.
I made up a list of passages and writing prompts to do with the kids at Symphony Space's Thalia Book Club in October 2011. I wanted to share that list with all of you.
Tía Lola Stories:
Algonquin Books has started a national book club as a way of creating community through reading books and meeting authors! Now that Oprah's stopping her show, somebody's got to step up to the plate!
As one of the treats for each selection, Algonquin Book Club decided to offer readers appropriate recipe & wine pairings to go with each book! They asked me what to suggest for In the Time of the Butterflies. Well, that's like asking an astronaut about brain surgery! I am not the cook in my family -- however, I have learned to cook, especially desserts, with the encouragement of my husband, Bill Eichner, who is the cook in the family. In addition to his own repertoire of recipes from traveling to different countries (the cuisine of India is a big favorite of his) Bill has learned to cook dominicano from my tías and primas in the D.R. In fact, although it's out of print, I think there are still copies out of there of Bill's Chelsea Green cookbook, The New Family Cookbook -- including recipes for pastelón and pudín de pan and Dominican rice and beans (arroz con habichuelas). Anyhow, in order to suggest the just right pairings of recipes for the novel, I decided, why not ask Dedé directly what Dominican dishes she likes. I called her; she wasn't home. But guess who answered the phone? The woman who cleans and cooks for her. So, I got it straight from the horse's mouth what it is Dedé likes to eat. I also emailed Jacquelín, María Teresa's daughter, to find out what she knew about her aunts and her mother's favorite dishes when they were alive. Another long emailed reply! CHECK out the Algonquin Book Club site for the webcast and more. . .
I hope you have a great experience reading the book and eating the food.
In Spring 2011, Repertorio Español, New York's main Spanish-language theater company, showed "En el tiempo de las mariposas", based on In the Time of the Butterflies. It was exciting to see them make my story come alive onstage. You can see photos & watch videos from the production at repertorio.org.
Fifty years later, it's still the time for Butterflies. Why not start an international movement? Join me in a simple new tradition: wear a butterfly (a pin, a T-shirt, a barrette) on November 25, 2010 (& every year!), for Butterflies everywhere. Speaking of Butterflies, listen to this NEA Podcast for more of their story -- & mine.
How Tía Lola
Learned to Teach
If you want to know how I came to write about Tía Lola, here's a short letter to fans of Tía Lola and to the readers of these books.
If you haven't yet met Tía Lola, I hope you will join us on the online blog tour that took place in October 2010. The blog posts are still available here:
Why Tía Lola and I Love Sayings
How Tía Lola Cooks Her Beans the Dominican Way
How Tía Lola Makes Rice the Dominican Way
What Do I Do When I'm Not Writing? part one
What Do I Do When I'm Not Writing? part two
A Typical Writing Day
Introducing (some of) My Tías
Eveoke opened its 2010/2011 season with Las Mariposas, an original dance theatre production inspired by my novel In the Time of the Butterflies. In December 2011, it was my great pleasure to see the dance performance again in the Dominican Republic, along with girls from Mariposa DR Foundation, a nonprofit that rescues young girls and educates them to ensure that they will not become victims of poverty or violence.
RETURN TO SENDER is now out in paperback! Also released September 14, 2010, is the Spanish translation Devolver al Remitente, translated by the very talented writer and translator, Liliana Valenzuela.
In the Time of the Butterflies was added to The Big Read library. The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American popular culture. They have posted a marvelous Radio Show, Reader's Guide and Teacher's Guide for the book, available on their website: neabigread.org.
November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, will be the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the Mirabal sisters. You can bet I will be wearing a butterfly on that day! Perhaps also to honour this anniversary, an adaptation of my novel In the Time of the Butterflies heads the 2010-11 season for Repertorio Español, New York's main Spanish-language theater company.
RETURN TO SENDER was selected as one of two winners of the 2010 Americas Award for Children and Young Adult's Literature, sponsored by the national Consortium for Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP). "Alvarez's cast of characters includes people of all ages and political perspectives, and readers cannot help but conclude that getting to really know and understand our neighbors is the only way to improve life for all who live in the United States."
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents was selected for THE BIG READ (April 16, 2010), and How Tía Lola Came to
Visit Stay for the little read (April 17, 2010) at Lenoir-Rhyne University, Hickory, North Carolina.
The American Library Association's Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. I was excited and honored to hear that the Pura Belpré Author Award for 2010 was awarded to RETURN TO SENDER!
In October 2009, I went to D.C. to receive the 2009 F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature. The award ceremony was part of the annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference held at Montgomery College in Rockville, MD. (the Awards Ceremony is now on YouTube for all to enjoy). Awful rainy, chilly weather but a warm reception and gracious hosts and lively participants. True, when the moment came and I read the roster of earlier recipients (Grace Paley, John Updike, Norman Mailer, William Styron, Jane Smiley, among others) I felt a little of what President Obama must have felt upon hearing he won the Nobel Peace Prize. But neither one of us is giving our respective honors back! We'll both just have to work harder to make sure we deserve to be in the company of the Great Ones who have gone before us. One of the best parts of the award was to come home to my Middlebury College community and feel their pride and enthusiasm for the achievement. The college has been a long time supporter of my work, beginning with my undergraduate years when I first embraced my calling as a writer. It was here where I learned my craft, and years later, came back to teach it to a new generation of students. Read more about the award on the Middlebury College website: www.middlebury.edu.
On Sunday, October 4th, I led the CROP Walk in my home town. If you think CROP Walk is a harvest festival, then you're in good company. That's what I used to think, too. And actually it is a harvest festival in which we walk in solidarity with those who are not getting any part of the harvest of the world's goods. Although you are reading this note after the walk, you can still go online and pledge your support for CROP.
I was at the 2009 National Book Festival in D.C. on September 26, 2009. I had said that the fall was closed to more traveling, but when I got invited to the first National Book Festival hosted by our new president and his wife, I couldn't resist. I admit I was invited once before, during the troubling tenure of our former prez, and I just couldn't make myself go drink his champagne and eat his finger food and shake the hand of a leader whose administration was steeped in lies. Looking back, I think I made a mistake. It's precisely when an oppressive regime is in place that you need Scheherazades in the sultan's court. I missed my chance, but I was chastened and also honored to go down to Washington to celebrate a president who understands and commands the power of words and to join fellow poets and storytellers as we slowly, yes slowly, find our way through the ruins and tumbling structures, providing what we can provide, string through this labyrinth. At the gala opening on Friday, I was selected to give the opening welcome along with four other writers: John Grisham, Judy Blume, David Baldacci, and Annette Gordon-Reed. Hands down, I was the most nervous, and it didn't help that I was the last one to speak. President Obama and Michelle were slated to be there, but sent regrets at the last moment as they were delayed at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh. I was actually relieved, though all my Obama-fan relatives who wanted personalized autographs from the president and Michelle were terribly disappointed. You can watch my speech on YouTube thanks to Book TV.
The Best Gift of All: The Legend of La Vieja Belén/El mejor regalo del mundo: la leyenda de La Vieja Belén, a bilingual picturebook (English/Spanish) has been published (November 2008) just in time for the holidays!
click for book summary
RETURN TO SENDER, a novel, ages ten and up (and up!), was published by Knopf Books for Children in January 2009. The seed for the novel came when I got involved translating at local schools for the children of Mexican migrant workers who have now made their way up to Vermont. (And boosted our compromised Latino population!) These workers are now doing the milking on many of our dairy farms. Without them, many of our small farmers could not survive, as they, too, are being squeezed by the high cost of farming and a dearth of workers.
Seeing how baffled the Mexican children and their classmates were about how to understand this situation that had thrown us all together, I thought: we need a story to understand what is happening to us! The title comes from a dragnet operation that the Department of Homeland Security conducted in 2006, named, Return to Sender. Work places were raided and undocumented workers were seized. Their children were the biggest casualties of this operation -- left behind to be soothed and reassured until they could be finally reunited with their parents.
Sometimes it's just plain fun to take a break from book writing and do short pieces for magazines who ask. Two recent articles are "Weybridge, Vermont: No Frills Here," Smithsonian magazine, November 2008, and "Winning the Hair Wars," MORE, October 2008.
Once Upon A Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism (announced March 2008). These are annual awards given by a consortium of book reviewers and critics from around the country. There are six categories, five finalists in each category.
Check out the website.
How The García Girls Lost Their Accents, a play by Karen Zacarías, based on my novel, had its world premiere on September 22, 2008, at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland. Blake Robison, the Producing Artistic Director of the theatre, also directed the play, and he did a fabulous job! For one thing: the last scene was played totally in Spanish! I was there for opening night, and afterwards, even monolingual/English-only audience members claimed they understood every word. How could you not? The almost all-Latino cast was sassy, inventive, skilled -- in a word, great! The run is over (September 22 - October 12, 2008) but if the play is revived, go see it. And if you're ever in the D.C. area, go visit the Round House Theatre (www.roundhousetheatre.org). They are a great community and national resource.
It was a long time coming, but finally my first novel, How The García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), is out in Spanish translation: De cómo las muchachas García perdieron su acento. Both Vintage Español (for USA Spanish) and Punto de Lectura/ Groupo Santillana (for Spanish-speaking countries) have published an edition of the same translation. Can't decide which cover I like better.
On October 4th, 2007, the United Nations dedicated a session to honoring the work of my mother, Julia T. Alvarez. She was unable to attend due to illness, and so she asked me to go and accept the award in her place.
For twenty-three years, my mother served as alternate representative to the UN with the Dominican mission. Hers was a labor of love and public service. Many of her colleagues never knew that she never collected a salary; she felt that she had been one of the lucky few to receive opportunities and hers was a poor country that could well use the salary for other needs. She devoted herself to the Third Committee, which addresses issues involving the vulnerable populations in developing countries, including children, women, and the elderly, who became Mami's particular focus.
It was through her efforts that an International Year of Older Persons (1999) and an ongoing International Day of Older Persons (October 1st) were instituted as well as a declaration of the rights of older persons, known as the United Nations Principles for Older Persons. She was unofficially proclaimed "the United Nations Ambassador on Ageing." Her vision -- before she left the UN in 2002 -- was to start an worldwide Elders for Peace program, in which the elderly around the world would serve as promoters of peace. I hope someone picks up this torch!
At the award session, many of her colleagues and admirers expressed their gratitude for her relentless and visionary work. She helped change the way the United Nations address the ageing issue.
It was a bittersweet moment for me to bring to a close my mother's indefatigable, passionate, and groundbreaking life of public service.
If you'd like to see the webcast of the tribute, please go to:
Then scroll down to:
4 October 07 NGO/DPI: NGO Briefing - "Addressing the Challenges and Opportunities of Ageing: Empowering Older Persons" in observance of the International Day of Older Persons (1 October).
[ Programme ]
[Webcast: Archived Video - AM Session English: 1 hour and 54 minutes]
The session recognizing my mother's work begins about 15 minutes into this webcast and lasts for about 30-40 minutes.
The speeches she gave over the years are collected in Speeches for the Ages: An Ambassador Speaks Out on Worldwide Aging. If you'd like to order a copy, you can do so at the XLibris website.
Starting September 2008, two new volunteers joined us on the farm:
Naomi Harper is the 2008-2009 DREAM volunteer teacher on the farm. She recently graduated from Middlebury College and is wonderful poet. Her poem, "Little Cages," based on her experiences in Peru was published in Babel Fruit, Volume 3, Issue 3, Summer 08.
Our other volunteer for 2008-2009, Dylan Wajda-Levie, also just graduated from Middlebury College and has worked on farms in Germany, Spain, and the United States, as well as on an organic coffee farm in Peru. He will be our Community Development Worker and also provide a link with Café Alta Gracia in the United States as a Field Operations Manager (CAG, USA).
We feel excited and blessed that these two wonderful young people will be at Alta Gracia. The farm will definitely rock and be full of high grace this coming year.
Vermont Coffee Company is our wonderful presence Stateside. Paul Ralston, the owner of VCC, roasts and distributes two coffees using beans from Alta Gracia Farm: Café Alta Gracia and Tres Mariposas. You can order online at order online at vermontcoffeecompany.com.
For every pound of our coffee purchased 10 cents go to the Dream Project's Alta Gracia school program!
If you want information on what's happening on the farm, upcoming workshops, internships, please go to cafealtagracia.com.
Read about the farm/our project in these recent publications:
Alta Gracia is also a partner in the DREAM Project (The Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring Project). Read all about this grass-roots movement of individuals and organizations to help improve educational opportunities for kids all over la isla: dominicandream.org.
Think about visiting! Visit online at cafealtagracia.com.
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