Dominican American writer Julia Alvarez was born in New York City in 1950. Although tied to the United States by birth, Alvarez spent the length of her childhood with her parents and three sisters in the family’s native home of the Dominican Republic. Island life for the young Alvarez was full of privileges and comforts. Not only was her family financially well off, but she was also surrounded by a host of nearby aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents—family whose adjacent properties combined to form an extended compound in which Alvarez and her sisters were lavishly indulged.
Life changed drastically for Alvarez when she was just ten years old. Her father’s activities as a political insurgent working to oust then-dictator Rafael Trujillo were suddenly discovered, and the family was forced to flee the country. Their new home in Queens, New York, was a particularly hostile place of exile. Gone was the affluent lifestyle of the Dominican Republic as well as any semblance of Latin culture. In an attempt to cope with this new environment, Alvarez threw herself into her schoolbooks and set about mastering the English language. By the time she entered Connecticut College in 1967, she was already a fledgling writer, capturing the school’s Benjamin T. Marshall Prize in poetry shortly after her arrival, an award she would win two years in a row. Alvarez continued writing even after transferring to Middlebury College in 1969. She won Middlebury’s Creative Writing Prize during her final year of school and went on to earn her M.F.A. at Syracuse University, graduating in 1975.
For the next several years, Alvarez crisscrossed the country, hopping from one temporary appointment to another—conducting poetry workshops, attending writing seminars, teaching college courses, and tirelessly honing her craft. Finally, in 1984, Grove Press published Alvarez’s first book of poetry, a slim volume of works entitled Homecoming. After its release, Alvarez began to dedicate more time to fiction instead of verse. By the late 1980s, she had also