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Author Julia Alvarez kicks off new AHSS lecture series

Julia Alvarez is the inaugural lecturer April 17 for the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences Distinguished Speaker Series. Photo: Bill Eichner

Editor’s note: This event is now sold out.

Novelist, nonfiction writer, poet and children’s book writer Julia Alvarez is the inaugural lecturer April 17 for the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (AHSS) Distinguished Speaker Series.

Alvarez, an English professor and writer-in-residence at Middlebury College in Vermont, is a prolific author whose books include the novels How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of the Butterflies and a series of humorous children’s books, the Tia Lola Stories. Her forthcoming book, the nonfiction A Wedding in Haiti, is the story of a friend’s wedding after the devastating 2010 earthquake.

Alvarez was born in the United States and raised in the Dominican Republic. In addition to writing, Alvarez is an environmental advocate who co-founded a sustainable farm-literacy project, Alta Gracia, in the Dominican Republic.

“Professor Alvarez is the perfect liberal arts leader to kick off this program,” AHSS Dean Anne McCall says. “She is an excellent model for our students: Her work as a professor, author and international sustainability advocate exemplifies excellence, creativity and freedom. I’m delighted she has agreed to share her story with the DU community.”

AHSS has distributed more than 600 free copies of Alvarez’ book In the Time of the Butterflies as part of its AHSS book club. The free books are still available at the Dean’s Office, Sturm Hall, Suite 457.

The Distinguished Speaker Series will feature one lecture a year by a leader or innovator in his/her field who broadly represents DU’s dedication to improving the human condition, McCall says. Next year’s speaker will be announced at the April 17 lecture. The lectures are $5 and open to the public. DU students, faculty and staff receive free admission. To register, visit

In a telephone interview from her home in Middlebury we asked Alvarez about her life and writing. Her edited comments follow.


Q: You were born in New York City and raised in the Dominican Republic. Do you consider yourself a Latino writer or an American writer or both?

A: We’re living in a world where we have to think of ourselves as global citizens. I’m an all-American Latina, and I don’t mean by that the America of the United States of America. We are the Americas; I am a writer with my roots in the southern part of the Americas, but the place I learned my craft, and where I live and work now, is the northern America, so I am truly an all-American writer.


Q: You have written in many different genres. Do you have a favorite?

A: Poetry is my first love. Part of it is being Latino. My first language is Spanish, a poetic, musical language.


Q: The name of your lecture sounds intriguing – Stories I Steer By. Can you tell me a bit about it?

A: There are certain stories, key stories, in my life that I steer by, that I find my true north by. That I understand life by. Each person is different — it doesn’t have to be a literary story, it can be a story that you heard or a story that you read when you were young. That’s why literature is so important for kids. If you read a story and there was a little girl with a lot of guts – like Nancy Drew solving mysteries, being proactive – that’s the story that gets in your head. I want to talk about the power that stories have. You’re told, “You’re just like your Aunt Margaret, boy she had a mouth on her.” There’s a story.

Stories bring it all together. There has been so much happening this past year: Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street. Changes are going on. I’m interested in what the role of the storyteller is in the circle of social change. I’m thinking in terms of social activism, thinking about the things that were able to be done because of the stories we are getting through cellphones. It’s not that people are getting the news, getting the facts — they’re getting the stories. Stories are really a powerful, powerful tool.


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