Something to Declare: Essays

Something to Declare: Essays

by Julia Alvarez
     
 

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“Julia Alvarez has suitcases full of history (public and private), trunks full of insights into what  it means to be a Latina in the United States,  bags full of literary wisdom.” —Los Angeles Times

From the internationally acclaimed author of the bestselling novels In the Time of the Butterflies and How theSee more details below

Overview

“Julia Alvarez has suitcases full of history (public and private), trunks full of insights into what  it means to be a Latina in the United States,  bags full of literary wisdom.” —Los Angeles Times

From the internationally acclaimed author of the bestselling novels In the Time of the Butterflies and How the García Girls Lost Their Accents comes a rich and revealing work of nonfiction capturing the life and mind of an artist as she knits together the dual themes of coming to America and becoming a writer.

The twenty-four confessional, evocative essays that make up Something to Declare are divided into two parts. “Customs” includes Alvarez’s memories of her family’s life in the Dominican Republic, fleeing from Trujillo’s dictatorship, and arriving in America when she was ten years old. She examines the effects of exile--surviving the shock of New York City life; yearning to fit in; training her tongue (and her mind) to speak English; and watching the Miss America pageant for clues about American-style beauty. The second half, “Declarations,” celebrates her passion for words and the writing life. She lets us watch as she struggles with her art--searching for a subject for her next novel, confronting her characters, facing her family’s anger when she invades their privacy, reflecting on the writers who influenced her, and continually honing her craft.

The winner of the National Medal of Arts for her extraordinary storytelling, Julia Alvarez here offers essays that are an inspiring gift to readers and writers everywhere.

“This beautiful collection of essays . . . traces a process of personal  reconciliation with insight, humor, and quiet power.”  —San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle

“Reading Julia Alvarez’s new collection of essays is like curling up  with a glass of wine in one hand and the phone in the other,  listening to a bighearted, wisecracking friend share the hard-earned wisdom about family, identity, and the art of writing.” —People

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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.
Kirkus Reviews
The much-praised poet and novelist Alvarez (Yo!, 1997; How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, 1991) offers a set of essays and reminiscences, all previously published in magazines or anthologies. The first half of the book consists of short memoirs dealing mostly with her life as a cultural and ethnic hybrid: she was born in Trujillo's Dominican Republic but escaped that dictatorship with her family (her father opposed the government) and moved to the U.S. Appealingly, however, Alvarez wears her troubles lightly. For instance, as she tells it, in New York City she and her three sisters liked to watch the Miss America pageant, yet worried they'd never fit in here because they looked and spoke so differently from the supposed American ideal. Even so, pretty soon their own looks became fashionable. Gracious and urbane, the author doesn't whine about ethnic victimization in America, though she experienced her share of it. Her voice, that of a voluble friend full of experiences to confide, brings comfort; she persuades us that interethnic harmony may be possible. Her warm personality shines through and keeps one reading. The collection's second half, though also memoiristic, concerns more frontally her experiences as a feminist and a writer determined to succeed against the odds. Alvarez waxes pat on this theme. Seemingly caught up in the feminist movement's now-conventional rhetoric, she defines herself and her victories too narrowly. Why, for example, must Maxine Hong Kingston be the preferred role model, and not Gertrude Stein or Susan Sontag, Angela Carter or Christa Wolf? Why shouldn't Alvarez seek to establish her identity and place in the larger world of letters,too, rather than mainly in the paradoxically exclusive province of gender and ethnicity? At moments she almost addresses such issues but on the whole avoids asking herself hard questions. A pleasing but not probing foray by the author into herself and others.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781565128392
Publisher:
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
08/01/1998
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
300
Sales rank:
839,517
File size:
4 MB

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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