For the majority of students, this spring break meant taking a time off from reading, writing or anything school related. However, last Wednesday one lucky group of local teens had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with acclaimed writer Julia Alvarez. A short lecture and Q&A session, hosted by Just Buffalo Literary Center, was organized for area teens.
Students gathered in the theater of the Burchfield Penney Art Center to listen to Alvarez share her stories, inspirations and methods of writing.
Alvarez spoke of her main inspirations, including growing up in the Dominican Republic. Alvarez spoke of her “sheltered and shielded” youth, as knowing information as a child growing up under a dictator could endanger members of her family. After leaving the Dominican Republic and moving to New York City at age 10, Alvarez said she “hated school,” laughing over the fact that even as an adult she struggled with multiplication, a skill she should have learned as a child. She disliked reading and writing, until she realized that “storytelling” could be accomplished through literature. Not until high school did she begin to explore her talent for writing, despite the negative feedback she faced from her highly traditional family. Alvarez spoke highly of English teachers everywhere, saying they are the people who nurture young writers the most.
As a writer, Alvarez sought to capture the stories of her people. She became obsessed with the four Mirabal sisters, and their story. Three of the sisters were Dominican political dissidents who opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. They were assassinated on Nov. 25, 1960. Alvarez felt obligated to write their story and tell the stories of her homeland. Alvarez’s novel “In The Time of Butterflies” tells the heart-wrenching story of the “butterflies,” the sisters on their quest for political justice.
Additionally, Alvarez spoke of her creative process. She said stories “entered her imagination” and she sought to transform things and “stir people.” Alvarez often said she had never read anything written by people like her when she began to write, and that only served as further inspiration and motivation. She encouraged the young writers around her to take the time that writing requires, and to do it daily to achieve their goals. Alvarez said as writers we need to recognize the “internal censorship and fear that needs to be overcome.” Student questions provoked Alvarez to discuss passionate feelings about her process. She noted that discipline to writing is needed to stay excited about an idea. “Writing is like maintaining a relationship,” requiring much time, she said.
One student asked a question regarding the state of the Dominican Republic today. Alvarez responded saying they had taken a few steps forward, but many steps back. Today, Alvarez works as an activist for women’s rights in the Dominican Republic.
Alvarez’s lecture proved to be a thought-evoking experience for students. Through her frank discussion, students gained tremendous insight into the mind of one of the world’s most talented novelists.
Lillian Kahris is a sophomore at City Honors.