Something to Declare

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Overview

In her first book of nonfiction, Julia Alvarez offers two dozen personal essays about the two major (and interlocking) issues of her life -- growing up with one foot in each of two cultures, and writing. In 1960, when Alvarez was 10 years old, her father's participation in a failed coup attempt against Rafael Trujillo, the repressive dictator of the Dominican Republic, resulted in the family's self-imposed exile to New York City, where Dr. Alvarez set up a medical practice in the Bronx while his wife and four ...
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Something to Declare: Essays

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Overview

In her first book of nonfiction, Julia Alvarez offers two dozen personal essays about the two major (and interlocking) issues of her life -- growing up with one foot in each of two cultures, and writing. In 1960, when Alvarez was 10 years old, her father's participation in a failed coup attempt against Rafael Trujillo, the repressive dictator of the Dominican Republic, resulted in the family's self-imposed exile to New York City, where Dr. Alvarez set up a medical practice in the Bronx while his wife and four daughters set about the serious business of assimilation. That uprooting formed the thematic basis for two of Julia Alvarez's novels. Her father's revolutionary ties inspired the third, the story of one of Trujillo's most infamous atrocities. Something To Declare is about the influences those experiences have had on her work, and about the practical lessons she's learned on her way to becoming the internationally acclaimed writer she now is.
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Editorial Reviews

Laura Jamison
Reading Julia Alvarez's new collection is like curling up with a glass of wine in one hand and the phone in the other, listening to a big-hearted, wisecracking friend share her hard-earned wisdom about family, identity and the art of writing. -- People
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Having transformed her tumultuous life story -- a passage from childhood in the Dominican Republic and Queens, New York, to a career as a celebrated author and creative writing teacher -- into a body of startlingly lyrical fiction and poetry, Alvarez here chronicles that journey in nonfiction form. These 24 autobiographical essays are meant to answer various questions her readers have posed about her life and her writing. For Alvarez, these questions ultimately can be summed up in one line: 'Do you have anything more to declare?' The first section of the book, 'Customs,' paints with vibrant, earthy clarity -- in classic Alvarez style -- the author's Dominican girlhood, surrounded by the rich cast of characters that made up her extended family and the constant menace of dictator Rafael Trujillo's police state. She also describes her escape to the U.S. with her parents and sisters, along with the assimilation that made her a 'hyphenated American.' The seeds of her writerly beginnings are picked out here and then further explored in the second part of her book, 'Declarations.' These essays examine the difficult balance between the writing life and 'real life'; the joys of teaching; the daily process of writing; and an unsuccessful trip to Necedeh, Wisconsin, to research a potential novel. Alvarez also includes her 'ten commandments' for writing, which consist of some of the author's favorite quotes (beginning with a Zen saying and ending with Samuel Johnson's well-known credo, 'If you want to be a writer, then write. Write every day!'). Taken together, the pieces are as open and lively as Alvarez's readers have come to expect from her work, although the inspiration and guidance they offer to aspiring writers are less striking.
Library Journal
This first collection of essays, some previously published, by award-winning Hispanic American author Alvarez, ranges freely between her life as a child displaced by her family's flight from the Dominican Republic and her development as a writer. In two sections, she explores childhood memories of trying to become part of American society, her developing interest in writing -- encountering encouragement from a teacher and some discouragement from her family -- and the road to becoming a full-time writer. Along the way, she offers comments on teaching -- repeating Roethke's saying that teaching is 'one of the few professions that permit love -- and some advice for young writers, including the idea that 'we are here to learn a craft that truly takes all of life to learn. -- Nancy Shires, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina
School Library Journal
YA-The poet and novelist brings together two dozen pithy autobiographical essays that are by turn humorous, thoughtful, or frightening. The first third of the book follows Alvarez's early Dominican childhood-when she was one of the wild cousins who was seated between well-behaved ones at family gatherings-through her family's immigration to the United States and their assimilation. Later essays take up the author's college years, budding career as a writer, marriages, and return trips to the Dominican Republic. Alvarez presents her personal experiences with a literary skill that converts them into universal moments. This book will delight her fans, attract new readers to her previous work, and open the possibility for discussions about experiences with emigration, immigration, growing apart from one's family, and discovering one's own career path and status as an adult.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Megan Harlan
As demonstrated in spry, inviting pieces concerning her writing process and hectically nomadic teaching life, Alvarez has clearly made her second language her own. --Entertainment Weekly
The Nation
[Alvarez is] a writer on a different kind of edge . . . who uses language skillfully to depict complex inner lives.
Bookpage
An honest and enlightening story that chronicles the evolution of an inscure adolescent immigrant from the Dominican Republic into a best-selling American novelist. . . .Aspiring writers will find it particularly instructive to follow the journey.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452280670
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/28/1999
  • Pages: 320
  • Age range: 18 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.44 (w) x 8.09 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Julia  Alvarez

Julia Alvarez left the Dominican Republic for the United States in 1960 at the age of ten. She is the author of six novels, two books of nonfiction, three collections of poetry, and eight books for children and young adults. Her work has garnered wide recognition, including a Latina Leader Award in Literature in 2007 from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the 2002 Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, the
2000 Woman of the Year by Latina magazine, and inclusion in the New York Public Library’s 1996 program “The Hand of the Poet: Original Manuscripts by 100 Masters, from John Donne to Julia Alvarez.” A writer-in-residence at Middlebury College, Alvarez and her husband, Bill Eichner, established Alta Gracia, an organic coffee farm–literacy arts center, in her homeland, the Dominican Republic.

Biography

Julia Alvarez was born in New York City during her Dominican parents' "first and failed" stay in the United States. While she was still an infant, the family returned to the Dominican Republic -- where her father, a vehement opponent of the Trujillo dictatorship, resumed his activities with the resistance. In 1960, in fear for their safety, the Alvarezes fled the country, settling once more in New York.

Alvarez has often said that the immigrant experience was the crucible that turned her into a writer. Her struggle with the nuances of the English language made her deeply conscious of the power of words, and exposure to books and reading sharpened both her imagination and her storytelling skills. She graduated summa cum laude from Middlebury College in 1971, received her M.F.A. from Syracuse University, and spent the next two decades in the education field, traveling around the country with the poetry-in-the-schools program and teaching English and Creative Writing to elementary, high school, and college students.

Alvarez's verse began to appear in literary magazines and anthologies, and in 1984, she published her first poetry collection, Homecoming. She had less success marketing her novel -- a semiautobiographical story that traced the painful assimilation of a Dominican family over a period of more than 30 eventful years. A series of 15 interconnected stories that unfold in reverse chronological order, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents addresses, head-on, the obstacles and challenges immigrants face in adapting to life in a new country.

It took some time for "ethnic" literature to gain enough of a foothold in the literary establishment for Alvarez's agent, a tireless champion of minority authors, to find a publisher. But when the novel was released in 1991, it received strongly positive reviews. And so, at the tender age of 41, Alvarez became a star. Three years later, she proved herself more than a "one-hit wonder," when her second novel, In the Time of Butterflies was nominated for the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award. Since then, she has made her name as a writer of remarkable versatility, juggling novels, poetry, children's books, and nonfiction with equal grace and aplomb. She lives in Vermont, where she serves as a writer in residence at her alma mater, Middlebury College. In addition, she and her husband run a coffee farm in the Dominican Republic that hosts a school to teach the local farmers and their families how to read and write.

Good To Know

From 1975 until 1978, Alvarez served as Poet-in-the-Schools in Kentucky, Delaware, and North Carolina.

She has held positions as a professor of creative writing and English at Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts (1979-81), the University of Vermont (1981-83), and the University of Illinois (1985-88).

In 1984, Alvarez was the Jenny McKean Moore Visiting Writer at George Washington University. Currently, she is a professor of English at Middlebury College.

She and her husband run a coffee farm, Alta Gracia, in the Dominican Republic.

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    1. Hometown:
      Middlebury, Vermont
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 27, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Middlebury College, 1971; M.F.A., Syracuse University, 1975

Read an Excerpt

TEN OF MY WRITING COMMANDMENTS

I. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few.

—ZEN MASTERS

II. The obligation of the artist is not to solve the problem but to state the problem correctly.

—ANTON CHEKHOV

III. Do not be afraid!

—ANGELS APPEARING TO SHEPERDS TENDING THEIR FLOCKS BY NIGHT

IV. If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is inside you, what is inside you will destroy you.

—ST. THOMAS, GNOSTIC GOSPELS

V. Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling.

—WEI T'AI

VI. One must write a poem the way one rules an empire, the way one cooks a small fish.

—AUTHOR UNKNOWN

VII. El papel lo aguanta todo. (Paper holds everything.)

—MAMI

VIII. You must change your life.

—RAINER MARIA RILKE

IX. The function of freedom is to free someone else.

—TONI MORRISON

X. If you want to be a writer, than write. Write every day!

—SAMUEL JOHNSON

Excerpted from Something to Declare Copyright (c) 1998 Julia Alvarez. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin.

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Table of Contents

Something to Declare to My Readers
Pt. 1 Customs
Grandfather's Blessing 3
Our Papers 13
My English 21
My Second Opera 31
I Want to Be Miss America 37
El Doctor 45
La Gringuita 61
Picky Eater 75
Briefly, a Gardener 87
Imagining Motherhood 95
Genetics Of Justice 103
Family Matters 113
Pt. 2 Declarations
First Muse 133
Of Maids and Other Muses 147
So Much Depends 163
Dona Aida, with Your Permission 171
Have Typewriter, Will Travel 177
A Vermont Writer from the Dominican Republic 187
Chasing the Butterflies 197
Goodbye, Ms. Chips 211
In the Name of the Novel 229
Ten of My Writing Commandments 259
Grounds for Fiction 261
Writing Matters 277
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2013

    Good book

    Alvarez writes with a kindness and wit that combined, make for a very nice read. Definitely a feel-gooder

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Amazing!

    Julia Alvarez lays it all out for those of us who love her writing...She is true to life and inspirational...

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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