On Monday Dominican-American poet and novelist Julia Alvarez will be among the 11 recipients of the 2013 National Medal of the Arts. President Obama will present the award to Alvarez in recognition of her “extraordinary storytelling” that explores themes of identity, family, and cultural divides.
The National Medal of Arts is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the U.S. government. The National Endowment for the Arts manages the nomination process, and the President of the United States presents the award to individuals or groups who are worthy of special recognition for their outstanding contributions to the arts in the United States.
Alvarez humbly acknowledges the importance and influence of her culture on her life and work.
“This is a special moment for all of us,” she said in a statement. “One of the most touching headlines someone sent me today from the DR read ‘Nuestra Julia’ — our Julia — to be honored at the White House. I love the choice of ‘our.’ Whenever an award like this is given out, the person receiving it is representing a whole community.”
Whenever an award like this is given out, the person receiving it is representing a whole community,” said the acclaimed writer.
The writer is best known for her first novel How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, the epic story of four wealthy Dominican sisters whose pampered lives change when their family flees the country and immigrates to New York City in the 1960s. The book follows the four women as they wrestle with the loss of their position of privilege and work toward assimilating into their new American home, each in her own unique way.
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents was followed by Alvarez’s historical novel In the Time of the Butterflies, which explores the human cost of political oppression. It is based on the true stories of the Mirabal sisters, three of whom were murdered for their valiant participation in the fight against the cruel dictatorship of General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in the Dominican Republic during the 1950s and ‘60s. The highly acclaimed second novel was made into a movie featuring Salma Hayek and Edward James Olmos.
A prolific writer, Alvarez has published books in various genres, including more than 10 titles for children and young adults. Some of her most recent work has been her series for middle schoolers, The Tía Lola Stories, which are a tribute to her own beloved aunts back in the Dominican Republic. The series combines all of Alvarez’s aunts’ unique traits into one character - Tía Lola - who comes to visit her nephew Miguel and turns his world upside down with her unpredictable ways.
Other recipients of the National Medal of the Arts award include Latina musician/author Linda Ronstadt and Chinese-American writer Maxine Hong Kingston, whose work inspired Alvarez as a young writer to “break the literary ethnic ceiling.”
“I feel a moment of confirmation that change can happen, slowly, over time, and also renewed commitment to continue to be one of those who stands up to be counted, so that others can get the same opportunities I have been lucky enough to receive,” said Alvarez.