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Author Archive: "Julia Alvarez"

What Are We Going to Name This Book?: The Hunt for the Perfect Title

Early on in the writing of my books, I choose a title. It's usually a title that reminds me what I think the book is about. Sometimes the titles change, as I never really know what a book is about until I've written it. But the title is my North Star to steer by as I navigate my way, paragraph by paragraph, towards the finished book I'm imagining I am writing .

After I'm done with the writing, other people enter into the process, all with opinions about the title I've given my book. First comes my editor, Shannon Ravenel, who has been reading drafts of the manuscript, but has held off commenting on the title until now. She wouldn't think of nixing a navigation device while I am still using it. I recall how during the writing of my first novel, she kept mum about my working title: Daughters of Invention, based on a malaprop of the mami in the book. When I turned in my final draft, Shannon told me that my title was just too dull for the ...

Three Degrees of Separation

One of the things I discovered in writing a nonfiction book is that unlike your fictional characters, the people you meet and write about enter your life, not just your imagination. They call you up on the phone or send you holiday letters at Christmas. After all, you've written about them, given them a second life inside a book, and that's a special bond. And if you have inherited those sociable Dominican genes, which I have, you find yourself with a lot of new friends. This without even joining Facebook!

With A Wedding in Haiti, people who were not an integral part of the story became a part, however briefly, of our lives. Two who led me on a little side journey with a happy ending were the sisters Soliana and Rica, nieces of Charlie, in whose house we stayed both times we visited Piti's family in Moustique.

Soliana and Rica
One of the pictures I sent their mom in Florida.
©Julia Alvarez

That first weary ...


I wouldn't have met Piti if it hadn't been for a chichigua.

To translate chichigua as a kite does not do justice to these beautiful creations of Dominican folk art. When I was a girl growing up in the Dominican Republic, chichiguas made their appearance in the skies above us in the spring, windy season, just in time for Easter.

Chichigua soaring high in the Haitian sky
(©Julia Alvarez)

We often made them at home, out of whittled bamboo sticks and colorful waxy paper. We needed string; we needed scissors and glue; we needed rags to tear up for the long, whirling tails. We needed someone with patience of an old person and the soul of a child to help us cut and paste the paper on the frame just right so our chichigua would fly. But we children were in charge, because chichiguas, as the core of the word implies, were for chichís, little kids like us who needed to soar above our small, cramped place in a world that belonged to the adults .

High and Amazing Graces

For the last 15 years, my husband Bill and I have been involved in a project in the Dominican Republic, a coffee farm with a literacy program, which we named, Alta Gracia, after the national virgencita. It seemed the right name for a farm located high in the mountains (alta) dedicated to spreading grace (gracia).

We look for hope wherever we can: here's a double rainbow seen from Alta Gracia.
Note the deforested mountainside. What ours looked like before we planted trees.
(© Bill Eichner)

The coffee part was ambitious but straightforward. We wanted to reforest the mountainside, grow organic coffee, and get certification for the coffee from our farm and from those of local farmers who would all pool their coffee together under the umbrella Café Alta Gracia. We wanted to find a First World market for this coffee. We also wanted to model Fair Trade practices.

From a Virgin Blogger: What Inspired “A Wedding in Haiti”

I am a virgin blogger! I've never done a blog-blog before. I hesitate because, I actually have blogged before, but not intentionally, and what I was doing was not called by that name.

A long time ago, before blogging was invented, I was talked into doing a website. I was spending far too much of my time, and so was my agent, answering the same questions from readers and correcting fictions that had spread about my life (that I was born in the Dominican Republic, that I had a Ph.D. from Harvard). Being a novelist, I didn't mind. But certain members of my family and certain gatekeepers of facts objected. A website seemed a convenient place to park the truth about myself.

But in setting up the website, I wanted to add a little salsita, a dash of spice. So, after my webmistress (I love having a mistress!), Sienna Potts, set up the usual pages: BIO, PUBLICATIONS, APPEARANCES, NEWS, I suggested we offer my web visitors a ñapa. "A what?" she wanted to know. I explained that in ...

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