BY Amaris Castillo (@AmarisCastillo)
Inside the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center Monday night, dozens of people sat and waited patiently. 7 p.m. arrived and left. Many of those waiting had books on their laps – or tucked neatly inside their purses to pull out later. After all, the woman who penned them would sign her autograph on them afterwards.
Julia Alvarez, a critically-acclaimed Dominican American author who rose to prominence in literature through novels such as 1991’s How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and 1994’s In the Time of the Butterflies, held a reading last night at the center. The event was organized by Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans, and the Malcolm X Center.
After being introduced, 61-year-old Alvarez took to the podium. Her hair was gathered up messily with a silver butterfly clip – her tiny frame wrapped in a thin sweater, which also had butterflies. Pastel-colored ones. The outfit was fitting; the author was there to read from In the Time of the Butterflies – her historical novel about the late Mirabal sisters during the time of Rafael Trujillo’s regime in the Dominican Republic. Three of the Mirabal sisters were known for fighting against Trujillo’s dictatorship until they were assassinated on Nov. 25, 1960. Dedé Mirabal is the only sister who survived.
As a child, Alvarez said was a troublemaker. “I was the kid in the family – tremenda!” she said, amid laughter from the audience. The author said she discovered books as a young child. It would become her passion.
Alvarez later began her career in teaching. “Teachers don’t get the credit they deserve,” she said. “They should be the highest paid population.” A loud applause followed – and several re-tweets of her quote sprouted up on Twitter.
In order to get tenure where she was teaching, Alvarez was told she needed to publish a book. 21 publishers rejected her at first, she recalled. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents was born from that time; Alvarez said she thought of the novel as her ‘tenure book.’ Little did she know, the words within that book would launch her literary career.
After she spoke, Alvarez opened up the floor to questions. She was asked to share everything from writing advice to words of wisdom from someone who married after her 30s. With a sweet smile, the author generously dished out advice.
As for the younger crop of Latino writers, Alvarez had a firm message.
“You’re the new generation,” she said. “You have to keep it going.”