Julia Alvarez: 2019 National Book Festival


>>Amy Stolls: My
name is Amy Stolls. I direct the Literary
Arts Program at the National Endowment
for the Arts. And I’m here to introduce
our next session. And I could begin,
as one often does, by saying I’m deeply
honored to do so. But that would be
an understatement. To the staff of the National
Endowment for the Arts over the last decade or so Julia
Alvarez has been and is a star. [ Applause ] She is to us both a monumental
figure in American literature and one of the most
gracious human beings many of us have ever worked with. Julia first came on our radar when we awarded her
a National Endowment for the Arts Creative
Writing fellowship in 1987. Seven years before In the Time of the Butterflies
was published. And we have an impressive track
record, I will say, of finding and supporting writers who
years later go on to fame and fortune, or at least fame. [Laughter]. In 2010, we added In the
Time of the Butterflies to our Big Read initiative,
which supports One Book, One Community read
programs nationwide. And that means communities could
select her novel as the focus for a month or months
of dynamic events. And since 2010, 29
cities and towns across the country have
been awarded grants to do just that with her novel. From large urban communities,
like Boston, the Bronx, Milwaukee, and Austin,
Texas to small and medium size communities
like Stanford, Kentucky, Pueblo, Colorado, and Gurabo, Puerto
Rico after hurricane Maria. And every time Julia
visits a community as part of the Big Read, we hear back from the Grand Tia
[assumed spelling] about how wonderful she is and what a remarkable impact
she’s had on her audiences. Said a Big Read participant
in Dekalb, Illinois, after one of her visits, tonight
we were touched by greatness. In a recently re-released — [ Laughter ]>>Julia Alvarez: It’s like
I’m a fictional character.>>Amy Stolls: See. [Laughter]. In a recently re-released
podcast available on our website at NEA Big Read.gov,
you knew I was going to throw that in there. You can find lots of information
on Julia and her novel there. Our media producer, Josephine
Reid, interviewed Julia about her writing, about
the story behind In the Time of the Butterflies and
various other things and in that podcast, Julia said this,
the way we live history is through personality, through
ourselves, and our lens and that’s already the
province of novels. Because novels are the truth
according to character. Does that still hold up?>>Julia Alvarez: Yes. That works.>>Amy Stolls: [Laughs]. How lucky we are to have
Julia’s lens and the lens of her characters and to have
her with her today, Marie Arana, a distinguished writer
and fierce advocate for literature in her own right. Exhibit A, this entire festival, the success of which
is largely due to her hard work
and curatorial eye. [ Applause ] I have no doubt you’re
about to hear a beautiful and quite memorable
conversation. Enjoy.>>Julia Alvarez: Thank you.>>Marie Arana: Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Marie Arana: Thank
you, very much, Amy. I don’t know about you,
but I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland. My feet are off the ground. These chairs are made for
people with long femurs. And we’re Latinas. I don’t have long femurs. [ Laughter, applause ] But here we are, Julia. You — you look at the credit
of this 25th anniversary issue of In the Time of
the Butterflies, which is an absolutely
marvelous book. Landmark book, as you all know. And there’s a whole
page of all of — this doesn’t even record all of what Julia has
done in her career. She’s been a poet, a
children’s book writer. She’s been a novelist. She’s been a memoirist. She’s been a commentator. She’s been essayist. Always speaking for herself,
of course, but then for so many of us who have lived
something like her experience. And she is probably one of the most versatile
writers I’ve ever known. She’s received more prizes
than I could mention. And she’s also my friend. So, the great reward over the
years has been learning really what we share so much in common. Of course, it started, for
me, as it had started for you through her words and her
literature and her language. We both arrived in this
country at about the age of 10. We both confronted
a new culture, embraced it, learned it. And learned to write,
even prefer to write in the language of this culture. And we both care very
deeply about America. And when I say America, [inaudible response] I
mean all of the Americas. My grandfather used to say, that is the biggest
identity theft ever. [Laughter].>>Julia Alvarez: Yes.>>Marie Arana: So, we’re here
to celebrate this wonderful, wonderful re-publication
of this marvelous book. She had already won hearts
with the Garcia Girls Lost — When the Garcia Girls Lost — How the Garcia Girls
Lost Their Accents. And then she would go on to win
more hearts in her collections of poetry and, of
course, her novels Yo and Salome [assumed spelling] and everything else
that she came. But this was the
groundbreaking book, I think. And this is why we are
honoring it in this way. The first thing that
I want to do is — I’m going to let you
speak, actually, Julia.>>Julia Alvarez: I
love hearing you speak.>>Marie Arana: But here’s — I just want to say this before
we start our conversation. This is what she wrote on
the publication of that book, which was in 1994, 25 years ago. In 1960, a few months after my
family fled the dictatorship of Trujillo in the
Dominican Republic, the three Mirabal sisters
were brutally murdered. Founders of the underground, [Spanish language]
the Butterflies, which was their code name, had inspired resistance
cells throughout the country. My father had joined one of
those cells, which was cracked by the SIM, the secret
police, in the summer of 1960. The reason we were
forced to flee. This novel tells
the Mirabal story through the lens of fiction. Needless to say, this book is
one I felt compelled to write. So, Julia, the first
question I want to ask you is, this is history. This is history. This is not only your
history, your family’s history, the history of a whole country,
the history of a whole way that the Dominican
Republic and Latin America, and all of that plays
into lives today, played into lives then, in 1960.>>Julia Alvarez: Yes.>>Marie Arana: Tell us about how you feel
looking back on that.>>Julia Alvarez: Well, it’s
a history that remains — the jury is still
out, so to speak. So many of these refugees,
people that we see coming to this country, desperate to
get out of their countries. It’s situations we
created in many instances, the United States with
interventionists, kind of, international politics. In the Dominican Republic
it was the Marines that had been occupying the
country that set up Trujullo. And we, my immediate family,
my parents and my sisters and myself, were
lucky to get out. So, I understand the complex
situation that brings people to the desperation where
they leave their homeland. They don’t want to leave their
homeland, their families, their stories, their history. And to see it still
playing out, it’s — it’s bittersweet, you know. Because we hope that with
the stories that we tell that somehow things
will change, you know. We tell the story we feel
people will understand. And so, at this stage of the
game to look back and think, well, you know, it’s
a continuing saga that we’re seeing now. But I also feel very heartened. First of all, in this
day and age for a book to last 25 years is just,
you know, it’s like amazing that it’s still alive. The lifespan of a
book is not that long. So, that it’s still out there. It’s been very touching. And to see the things
that it’s brought about. You know, one of my favorite
writer’s, Rebecca Solnit, a favorite little book that
I sent everybody to read when you despair of current
politics, Hope in the Dark. It’s all about activism
in times of despair. And she talks about the
indirectness of direct action. That you do something and
you do this particular thing, like write this book,
and from it you see that things have happened. People have gotten aware or
inspired to do other things so that it keeps
being passed on. And when it has a 25-year
lifespan, I’ve seen that happen.>>Marie Arana: It’s
an endearing book, it’s an endearing story. And maybe because it’s
cyclical in a way. I mean, we live through things
— through Trujullo regime and then we lived through the — it seems we lived
through it again.>>Julia Alvarez: Yes, and
again, and again, and again.>>Marie Arana: Yes.>>Julia Alvarez: Well, and
it’s also what I found was that originally, I set out to
write a history book about — a biography of the
— about the sisters. But I became interested, as
Amy mentioned, in character. The truth according
to character. And that’s more the province
of the fiction writer. So, also, what’s interesting
to me and it still continues to be interesting to me is
what politicizes people. And in writing about these
women, I was interested in the female point of
view of the history. But also, what politicized
each one? What politicizes us? Why do we decide to do
something that is terrifying? What they did, stand up
to a dictatorship and look at what came about
because of that. But what causes that in
a person, in a community? What gets us going, you know? What’s the last straw in what
we say, [Inaudible], you know. A martin or — [Spanish
language]. Yes.>>Marie Arana: Well, it –>>Julia Alvarez: And it’s
a very important question right now.>>Marie Arana: It is, it is.>>Julia Alvarez:
We’re all living.>>Marie Arana: When do you
say, [Spanish language]? Well, for each of these sisters, the reason is different,
somehow. They all come down in the
place but not in the same way.>>Julia Alvarez: Right.>>Marie Arana: So, when
you’re talking about, what is it that prompts
you, that indirect thing that prompts directness? It is, I suppose, when
something hits home to the character that you are.>>Julia Alvarez:
That’s interesting.>>Marie Arana: I don’t know. I’m just guessing. What do you think?>>Julia Alvarez: No,
because I did find with each of the sisters it was something
different that stirred them. And, you know, when I talk
about this politization, I just having an interview
with Herbert from a program, the Wood Carver — Book Carver. And he said, you know, what
did you find is the answer? And I had to think about it. This is what I love about novels and Richard Ford addressed
this last night in his talk, is that you don’t find answers. Chekov said that the
task of the writer is not to solve the problem but
to state it correctly. You know, it’s intricacies,
it’s complexities. So, there isn’t just
one thing that happens. But the whole story
tells the story. And so each one, I found,
as I became involved in their character was
something different that drove them to
do what they did. And not always something noble. It wasn’t always
something noble. I think it was Robert Kohls
tells a story of an integration of a school someplace
in Louisiana. And, you know, he was really
interested in this one woman that sort of broke the barrier. You know, that brought
her white kids to the school that
was integrated. Because everyone else
had been boycotting it. And, you know, when
he interviewed her, she would say grand
things like, oh, well, you know we’re all equal,
this is the United States. Something in it didn’t
feel accurate to him. So, he kept plying her
and she finally said, I’ll tell you what did it. She said, I had those three
kids in the house for a week. [Laughter]. Had me up to here. And then one of them
broke my favorite lamp. And I said, that’s it, we’re
going to school tomorrow. And she hauled her kids to
school and she broke that line. She took them in and then
she looked behind her and other people that
had been tenuous, and not knowing, began to go in. And so, you know, what drives us
— and that made her courageous when she saw, oh,
there’s a bunch of us. Yes, we can do this.>>Marie Arana: It’s
a matter of well.>>Julia Alvarez: Yes, yes. But what drove her was, she was
fed up with fulltime mothering. [Laughter]. So, I love it. I love that — that’s
why we’re storytellers. Because it’s not that, you know,
kind of blanket this or that. It’s nuance. It’s — I love what
Richard Ford said, this is my second time I’m
referencing that but it was so wonderful and it’s
not great learning, or that you know a
lot about literature. But you feel you want
to give attention to life, the life around you. Pay attention.>>Marie Arana: Sometimes
it’s small. Sometime it’s just a
little human tissue that you’re trying
to get across.>>Julia Alvarez: Right. Henry James said — his advice
to the young writer was be him, and I add or her, be him
on whom nothing is lost. You know, you’re constantly
doing research as a writer. You notice things. You’re curious.>>Marie Arana: So, I want
to know about the little girl that came when she
was 10 years old. To what extent, I mean, this
was a terrible dictatorship, the Trujullo dictatorship. It was — rabidly terrible, in
the fact that he had, you know, personal excesses
and he was predatory in the most disgusting
human ways. And he had complete
control of the country. And there you are,
you’re a little girl, and suddenly your
father resists. Something moves him to resist. And then you are flung out of that happy family,
that warm embrace. However terrible the
country was going on, you’re basically a member of
a family in a happy place.>>Julia Alvarez: Yes.>>Marie Arana: What
was that like?>>Julia Alvarez: Well, it was
interesting because, you know, people say growing up in
this terrible dictatorship, and it was horrible,
31 years of it. The whole generation of my parents are called
[Spanish language] because, you know, they just
were under this –>>Marie Arana: Surviving.>>Julia Alvarez: Yes. Just basically surviving. But I grew up in this, you
know, I was a kid in this. And that’s not my experience. I had an extended familial. I had their love and protection,
in the sense of belonging. I was surrounded by the
world’s best storytellers. You know, I wasn’t a reader. I was bad at school. But I loved this culture. And then we come to
the United States and we’re told this is
the land of the free. This is the home of the brave. This is going to be special. You’re going to be free. And that wasn’t our experience. You know, we were isolated,
wasn’t a multicultural culture. Kids made fun of our accents. And, you know, we just
felt very isolated. You turn on the TV and there are
black people being hosed down.>>Marie Arana: Exactly, yes.>>Julia Alvarez: There’s little
girls being bombed in a church. And I think, wait
a minute, you know, this is the land of the free –>>Marie Arana: This
is a terrible place.>>Julia Alvarez: Yes. This is the land of
the free but only of certain people that are free. And so, you know, it
was very dramatic. But the indirectness
of direct action. What it did is, it
made me into a reader. Because I had to turn in and
became an introverted kid. And it wasn’t out there
in the stories so I had to become a reader to get inside
that world again and to feel like I was welcome and belonged. So, it’s a — again,
the mixtures that make a life interesting. The worst thing that
could have happened was in some ways what
led me to my calling.>>Marie Arana: Of course. But this was the culture shock. It was — the shock was
not experienced in –>>Julia Alvarez: In the DR? No, no, no, no. It was here. It was experienced here.>>Marie Arana: So, you were
actually of the vanguard, Julia, of the Hispanic writers’
boom, shall we say. You were at the very beginning. So, there was not —
there were not many people that you could look at
to say, well, you know, that’s — I identify with that. Who did you identify with?>>Julia Alvarez:
Who did I end up –>>Marie Arana: Identify with.>>Julia Alvarez: Ah, you
know, we were writing — we didn’t know about each other. I mean, it was later that I
connected with Sandra Cisneros and Ana Castillo, and, you
know, that all came later. So, we were writing and what
we would write was considered a province of sociology. You know, it’s about those kinds
of — it’s a study of people. It’s not part of
American literature. And then I read Maxine Hong
Kingston, The Woman Warrior. And I thought, you know, this was about a
Chinese-American family in Sacramento and it
could have been my family, including the first sentence
of that memoir novel. It’s a must read, really, which I thought every
Latino woman could make that the first sentence of
their novel or their memoir. And it was, my mother
told me never, ever to repeat this story. [ Laughter ] And then she goes on
to tell the story. And I thought, you know,
it was just perfect. It was just like I get that. But the mixture of cultures,
and you know, the visions, and the spirits, and the
— combined with SATs and, you know, poodle skirts or
whatever they were called. You know, I mean,
all that combination. It was just — and I thought oh
my, oh, this — you can do this. Oh, you can do this. You know, it was — I
got to meet her finally, a few years back, here in D.C.
And I just told her, you know, so many of us, Sandra, too. Sandra Cisneros talks
about my –>>Marie Arana: Me, too. Me, too.>>Julia Alvarez: Oh, my gosh. Yes.>>Marie Arana: That’s a
very strategic question. Because that was the
book that for me — it was like, why you
can do this in fiction. You can speak in
legends and mythologies and spirits, and
you know, ghosts.>>Julia Alvarez:
And combinations and straddle the cultures.>>Marie Arana: And
it was so familiar. It was very familiar.>>Julia Alvarez: So,
familiar, you know, the immigrant experience. The female experience, you
know, those kinds of families that wanted to silence you because they wanted
you to be safe. They wanted you to
be a nice girl. And you were a woman warrior. You know, and so, yes. It was a –>>Marie Arana: And
different, too. I mean, you’re different. I’m reminded of Gene Yang, who is the graphic
novelist, a wonderful. He’s done these wonderful books
on the Chinese Boxer Rebellion. And his inspiration, which was
so wonderful and surprising, was actually African-American.>>Julia Alvarez:
Oh and that, too.>>Marie Arana: Comic book
writers and graphic novelists. So, these crossings of
culture are so interesting because what you’re
identifying with is kind of the outsider thing, perhaps. And the fact that you can do
things differently in writing.>>Julia Alvarez: Right, right. That the margin, the
Toni Morrison quote that we heard last night. That you don’t move
to the center. It’s not, you know, you don’t
assimilate into the other thing that is pushing you out. You create where you are in
the margin as a new center.>>Marie Arana: Right.>>Julia Alvarez: You know,
and that’s what a book like Woman Warrior did. It just said, you know,
they don’t allow you there. We create this culture. And then the multicultural
boom has changed the mainstream American literature. You know, it’s provided this
richness and accessibility. And so, it’s a wonderful
thing to — I was lucky that I happened
to be on the cusp of that because my first novel, Garcia Girls wasn’t
published until I was 41. But I already had been writing for about 20, 25
years, you know. So, that it happened, I was
lucky, because it could — it could be 20 years from
now or 25 years from now and I wouldn’t have had that
sense that I could participate in being a story teller in what
became my language and culture.>>Marie Arana: So, how are
you different from the writer who wrote, How the Garcia
Girls Lost Their Accent?>>Julia Alvarez: Oh,
boy, Marie, that’s — [ Laughter ] You know, like, how to — well, you know, I am coming
out with a new novel next year. [ Applause ]>>Marie Arana: Does
it have a title, yet?>>Julia Alvarez: Yes, which
they tried to get me to change. And I’m — that’s changed. You know, when I first wrote, How the Garcia Girls
Lost Their Accents, the title of that was
Daughters of Invention. And I had a wonderful editor, Shannon Ravenel at
Algonquin Books. And she didn’t —
she was so good. As an editor, she let you hold
on to your little, you know, what you need at your –>>Marie Arana: Your
little favorites.>>Julia Alvarez: Little
favorites until she wrested them out of your hand
when you were ready. [Laughter]. So, I was really connected
to Daughters of Invention. And then at the end
she said, Julia — she has this wonderful
Southern accent that could talk you
into anything. She says, we’re going to have to
come up with some other title. That title is awful title. I said, Shannon,
Daughters of Invention. She said, no, no, no. We went round and
round and round. And I had lists. And then finally we
would talk on the phone. We didn’t have email then. Talk on the phone,
talk on the phone. And she said, well, what do
you think this novel is about? And I was just fed
up and I said, it’s about how the Garcia
girls lost their accents. She said, that’s it. [ Laughter ] So, the new title — so
I got convinced there. The new title that they tried
to get me to change but I — now that I’m [Spanish language]
in this world [laughter] I hold on to, I get cranky
and I hold on to it. It’s called Afterlife.>>Marie Arana: Oh, beautiful.>>Julia Alvarez: All one word. Afterlife.>>Marie Arana: It’s beautiful. So, you think they’re going
to stick with this or –>>Julia Alvarez:
Yes, they said, well, people will think
it’s a religious book. Well, people will think
it’s a gloomy book. Well, people will think — I said, well, they’ll have to
read it to know what it’s about.>>Marie Arana: So, maybe in
the last 25 years or the — you’ve gotten stronger.>>Julia Alvarez: Well, yes. You know, you sort of, as a
writer, part of your handicap as a writer is that, you know, you want your other
points of view. So, you’re persuadable and
you see points of view. And that’s difficult. But also when you’ve been this
long at it, you finally say, I’ve got this feeling about this
and I want to hold onto this and you trust a little
bit more your intuition, in terms of the writing. Because I mean, I’ve
been in this craft and calling now for
most of my life.>>Marie Arana: All
of your life.>>Julia Alvarez: And
so, I have to, you know, not that each book, as you know, you have to learn how
to write that book. So, you have to start completely
humbled into the process. But you have certain things
you’ve survived in the process. And so, you have a sense of
where you want to go with it.>>Marie Arana: Absolutely. So, the — let’s say, the young
person who began writing — actually, you began
writing poetry, at first. Did you not?>>Julia Alvarez: Yes.>>Marie Arana: So, you were
writing the line by line meter, which tuned you to
language in the first place. You still have that because
you still write poetry. Do you not?>>Julia Alvarez: Yes, yes.>>Marie Arana: So,
that hasn’t changed. Is there a sense of
maturity or of a kind of will and determination? I just think sometimes getting
older is — makes you better, stronger, more honest, in a way. Would you say that you would
have written How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent in
your current sort of persona?>>Julia Alvarez: Ah, that is –>>Marie Arana: Or when you
read it now, should I say, when you read it now,
does it feel true?>>Julia Alvarez: I don’t
like reading what I wrote. [ Laughter ] I mean, honest, I’m
still working on it. Because –>>Marie Arana: The
rest of us love it.>>Julia Alvarez:
Well, the thing is, and I used to think this was a
bad thing but I’ve gotten to see that it’s a good thing. I think, oh, that sentence.>>Maria Arana: Yes,
you want to edit.>>Julia Alvarez: How
did I think I could write that sentence? Oh, please, take that
fifth use of ellipsis away from those three pages. You know, it just
— you see things. And I used to think,
this is terrible. But then I thought what it means
is that I’ve grown as writer. I know I would work
things differently. But there’s also a
great deal of affection because you see your
young writer self and there’s a perspective in it. And you see how, you know,
fiercely you’re holding on to certain things and
how much hope, ambition, desire to prove yourself
and that you belonged in this culture and
in this literature. And that wanes. That has waned, you know. And I think I can see
that as a difference. In terms of the writing, I’m — and how poetry is
still impacting me is that it’s my first love. It’s still my first love. It’s how I like to
start the writing day. In part because, as
Emily Dickinson said, there’s no approximate
words in a poem. Or it’s less forgiving. So, you’re sort of
tuning your voice to a very exacting,
you know, bar there. You know, when you read poetry. But I also think that
coming from Spanish, in a very musical
language, that’s it’s a way that I could continue speaking
in Spanish and English. You know, that rhythmical
cadence kind of –>>Marie Arana: Has that music.>>Julia Alvarez:
Yes, has that music. But I still — I
keep returning to it. And I think it gets
harder and harder to write because that kind of exactitude. Pros is more forgiving.>>Marie Arana: It is, indeed. It is, indeed. No, poetry is like
the white-hot bullet, I think, of language, in way. Makes you pare everything
down in such a way.>>Julia Alvarez: Right. And that’s what I try to
do with the new novel. I’ve always been impressed and
love the short, lyrical novel, that really is participates
in that Japanese sensibility in which you take more
and more things away, so, that what remains gets charged. And I really admire those. So, part of Afterlife
is I wanted to write a short lyrical
novel before I go. You know, that’s one of the
things I’ve wanted to do.>>Marie Arana: That’s dark.>>Julia Alvarez: And so —
well, but now, I think, gosh. This is really hard to do. You know that Pascal saying, had I had more time I would
have written a shorter letter. [Laughter]. It’s really hard to –>>Marie Arana: Was that Pascal?>>Julia Alvarez:
Well, you know –>>Marie Arana: Mark Twain
said that he wrote that. [Laughter].>>Julia Alvarez: It’s been
assigned to Mark Twain.>>Marie Arana: So,
did Aesop, I guess.>>Julia Alvarez: Yes,
you know, I guess it’s — but if you go on — there’s
a quote fact checker website. They trace it back to Pascal. But we are all ripping each
other off anyhow as writers. [Laughter].>>Marie Arana: I want to ask
you and this goes to something that Garcia Marquez said. He said, you know, by the time
you’re eight you have the heart and the mind of the writer
you were meant to be. And you are always working
from that child’s mind. And from that child’s
imagination. And you are really pretty
much, you know, teachers alert. Because if that’s true, wow. But this he — I have a sense,
too, that the things that I rely on most as a writer and a reader
are things that I learned very, very early on, or feelings
that I had very early on. So, I wanted to ask you
in this next question, to what extent does that little
girl who came over at the age of 10 live in your work? And so, does this make you
a different writer from say, James Smiley writing,
you know, about the West.>>Julia Alvarez: Well,
it’s interesting because — that you mention eight-years old
and what happened to you then. And I wasn’t a reader. So, I wasn’t, you know, I didn’t
— I can’t say that, you know, it was in me to be a writer. But I think coming
from a story teller — story telling culture,
an oral culture. And the only book I remember
being grabbed by and reading as a kid was given
to me by my Auntie who lives in Maryland now. It was the Arabian Nights. And I remember it
was a picture book. And it was wonderful because it
had a brown girl on the cover. An Arabian girl. And she looked like
a Dominican girl. And this girl, she told stories. And she saved her life and
the life of all the women in the kingdom telling
these incredible Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, Ali
Baba and the Forty Thieves. Told stories and ended up
changing the mind of the Sultan. So, I think this — when
we came to this country, we didn’t bring much with us. It was a very fast exit. But that I carried
in the bloodstream of my imagination this
very luminous story. They gave me — I couldn’t
even have set this this way. But they gave me the idea
that stories have power. That they can change people. That they can save you. And so, I think that
was in there. And so, I think, yes, to
teachers it’s amazing what, you know, a story or an
event can become a kind of little blueprint
through your life. And I still think so much
Scheherazade, that’s the girl that saved her life telling
stories, as a kind of, I don’t know, bedrock,
mythic — mythos, for me. If we had to choose myth
or the story, that kind of, I don’t know, it kind of warms
up our soul, imagination, I would have to say it’s
the story of Scheherazade. So, I think that
Scheherazade lives on in me. And that’s, yes.>>Marie Arana: So, I
hope you have questions. Please come up to the
microphones if you do. I want to ask, because
it’s pressing and important right now,
the business of being Latina in this — or Latino,
or Hispanic, or whatever you want
to call yourself. But of being of Latin-American
origin or Latin-American heritage. Where are we now? How are we doing?>>Julia Alvarez:
Ah, Marie, yes. It’s — it’s very disturbing. I mean, so much is
very disturbing. It’s hard to pick one thing out. You know, but to — I think
for those of us who came and who came because of
a desperate situation, to see some of these footage of
children who could have been us, you know, in these situations and to see what’s
happening is — you don’t even know where
to begin to do something. I mean, I just felt
like I wanted to get in the car and drive there. Like, they were going to let me
in and say, I’ll adopt them all. You know, I mean
there’s this sense of this couldn’t be happening. So, it’s why I re-read, Hope
In the Dark by Rebecca Solnit and why activism, wherever we
find ourselves, is so important. As a matter of fact, since
I’ve mentioned Scheherazade, I had this idea but
somebody needs to run it, called the Scheherazade Project. And what I wanted is for 1001
nights, a woman artist or dancer or story teller or poet or musician would go
to the White House. This would be the demonstration. And would tell the story
or do something that night and then the next night. I don’t think it would change
the mind of the Sultan. [Laughter]. But it would be a way to
combine creativity and activism, which is so much something
that I’ve always felt as an immigrant writer,
fell on my lap. I don’t think I would have
naturally been an activist or — but there’s something
about writing from a margin gives you
then this orientation of being opening up
the circle and opening up — being more inclusive. It just puts you there. So, to, you know, say that
when I want to be Scheherazade for one night in front
of the White House, that’s how desperate I feel. [Laughter]. You know. I’m no longer
the eight-year-old. I would hide under the
bed skirt and tell stories and I would imagine that
unless I told a good story, my head would be chopped
off in the morning. And I sometimes, I feel I’m
back in that head again at 69.>>Marie Arana: Well,
I have to say, you have helped a lot of people. Julia doesn’t talk
about it very much but she has been a
philanthropist in so many ways to people in the Dominican
Republic and elsewhere. But I would open this up to you. To question, please. Step forward. We have little time.>>Julia Alvarez: Hi. It’s hard to see you. This is why I’m doing this.>>Marie Arana: You’re shiny.>>Julia Alvarez: The
light is right there. Right.>>Thank you both so much. You mentioned teachers earlier. And when I was in middle
school English teacher, I taught before we were
free to my students, including Dominican students.>>Julia Alvarez: Where? Here in D.C?>>In Boston.>>Julia Alvarez: Oh, of course.>>Yes. I’m really proud of
how much we learned together. And I’m curious if there’s
any one particular thing that you are most
proud of in your career and in the works you’ve written?>>Julia Alvarez: Actually,
I don’t know if it’s pride but just immense gratitude that I’ve had the
opportunity to do what I love. You know, there’s this
little roomy quote that goes, let the beauty you
love be what you do. But not everybody gets
the opportunity to do that for any number of reasons,
including where you’re born on this earth and what situation
you’re in, you know, what — you know, how the culture you’re
in allows you opportunities. So, I just feel immense
gratitude to be able to do that and to have all this
attention and all of you here. I mean, without you
I wouldn’t be here. You’re my readers. You take what’s on the
page and you bring it to life in your imaginations. Just immense gratitude that
that has been possible for me. And also, very — as I, you
know, live and experience so many things, awareness that
this isn’t a given, you know. In this culture and
especially in other cultures. So, I feel gratitude for that. And I guess, if I have a pride
thing is that I didn’t give up. You know, Garcia
Girls, 41 years old. That [foreign language], you
know, my mother would say. You know, you don’t have — who
is going to take care of you. You don’t have — I didn’t — I wasn’t living the
conventional life that — she wanted for me to
be safe and that I — I don’t know how I kept going. Because I didn’t have
loads of self-confidence. But this was something that
I wanted, that I loved, and that I held on to. So, I guess pride, if
that’s the right word, just, you know — yes,
that I did that. And I also taught
for so many years. That was the career I earned a
living at for many years and so, great — gratitude to teachers
and the fact that I was able to in a classroom connect
with young people and survive. So, yes.>>Marie Arana: Thank you. Over here.>>My book club is reading In
the Time of the Butterflies and will be discussing
it in a couple of weeks. And I was wondering if there
was a question or topic that you would recommend that
we discuss at our meeting? [ Laughter ]>>Julia Alvarez:
Oh my goodness. It’s so — you know, when they
came out with the new edition, they had me look at the back,
at the questions that they ask. And they said, well, if
you want to add anything. You know, when you write the
story, you’re not thinking about it in those
analytical ways. It’s all like it was a piece. So, you’re the worst person
[laughter] to ask people what, you know, or give
any suggestions. But maybe some of the
things we’ve talked about here on the stages. Marie’s wonderful questions. She’s a great interviewer. I was kind of worried. What are Marie and I going
to talk about, you know? And no problem. But some of the things
she’s asked about — and, of course, this
is 25 years old. You know, how is this
relevant to us now? You know, what — that term
that’s now used so much. Take away. What’s the take away for us now? Because we go into
a story and we come out of it slightly
changed as a person. I think if it’s gotten
in our system. So, what is that
change in sensibility and how does it apply to the
times we’re living in now?>>Marie Arana: Yes. The book is filled with history and you’re living
history as you write it. Last question, please.>>Thank you so much
for being here today and for all of your work. I actually want to build
off a previous question and something you
mentioned before. I’m currently a 4th
grade teacher. And so, you talked about protecting the
childhood imagination and you talked about, also, some negative experiences
you had in school. What do you wish, especially
in this disturbing moment, that we public school
teachers do in the classroom and do for our children?>>Julia Alvarez: Oh,
that’s such a good question. As you know, I’m seeing
two minutes are left here. I have a problem because
I give these long answers. But I think, you know, one of
the reasons that I got involved in writing for kids
is I live in Vermont. Not a very diverse state. But all of a sudden we
started noticing in our county and influx of undocumented
Mexican migrant workers. And they — turned out
they were doing the milking on all the farms. But they were an
underground population because they would be very
visible, in a non-diverse state, if they were out in public. And their kids started to
come into the school system. And the kids were terrified
because they were afraid of what would happen to their
parents if they went home and their parents weren’t there. And the farm kids were alarmed
because they were true Americans and their parents were doing
something illegal, you know, hiring these people and
what was going to happen and what did it mean
to be patriotic? And so, I was called into the
schools because there weren’t that many Spanish speakers
in my county to help with these new kids coming in. And when I walked in, one
of the reasons that I wanted to write Return to Sender, is because I thought
we need a story to understand what
is happening here. So, that in story form kids
can participate in some of the issues and some of the
struggles that they’re going through and see how it plays
out in a fictional landscape. And therefore, be
able to integrate some of these confusing
things in their minds and in their little communities. So, I think finding
books that address issues that the kids are facing
and that, you know, you go to those gray
areas, not black or white, where kids can — you know,
when you read a story, it’s not like you
understand it analytically. But in that integrated way
that story does, you know, with your mind and your
heart and your spirit. And to be able to read
books that engage them with what they see
that’s disturbing on the news, you know. And so, I think that’s sometimes
you want to protect the kids, you know, they’ve got enough of
this, you know, they don’t need to know about gun violence, you
know, or they don’t need to know about this refugee crisis. They don’t need to know
about the environment. And look who is leading us. Greta Thunberg. You know, a kid crossing
the Atlantic on sail ship. [Applause] Who got people really
riled up about gun control? The kids at Parkland, you know. They’re saying you’re
not — we need you — you’re not taking care of us. We’re taking this up. And as my friend Bill
McKibben says, it’s not okay to let kids do this
all by themselves. So, you know, to engage them because it’s going
to be their world. I’m going to be gone. You’ll be an old lady. [Laughter]. But they’re — it’s
going to be their world. And they need to
be understanding it and story gives them
a safe container in which to understand it. So, yes. And boy, this book
festival should be a wonderful place to find all
these different writers that are addressing
these issues, you know, and what they’re
writing for kids. So many great children’s
book authors here. Yes.>>Marie Arana: Julia, I
want to — wonderful answer.>>Julia Alvarez: And
I’m going to — no. I want to — She doesn’t
want me to do this. This was born two days ago. And I am with an
old lady book here. [Laughter]. You know. And this
book is a history. Silver Sword in Stone. It’s a history of
Latin-America that is — it was just sent to
me by the publisher. They didn’t ask for a blurb. Usually writers are so busy
they don’t want to be asked for a blurb because they
have enough reading to do. And I read this, and I
contacted her publisher and I said can I please
write a blurb for this? [Laughter]. It’s an amazing book. I understood the Southern
part of the Americas and the United States so much
better because of this book. So, I’m sorry, Marie. Okay. I’m not saying this
because we’re friends. But it is a wonderful book
and it is the moment for us to all read this book
to understand us, as one reviewer said, immigrants
can now hold up a sign saying, I am here because
you were there. [Laughter].>>Marie Arana: What a friend. [ Applause ]>>Julia Alvarez: So,
this is the new born and it needs godparents. So, go buy it.>>Marie Arana: That’s not the
way this was supposed to end. [Laughter]. This was supposed to be –>>Julia Alvarez: Yes, she said
well, if you mention it just, you know, like be tactful. Am I tactful? [ Laughter ] [ Spanish language ] My mother told me
never, ever to do this.>>Marie Arana: Congratulations
to Julia for the 25th anniversary
of her book. Wonderful.>>Julia Alvarez: I love this. [ Applause ]

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