Does Julia Alvarez ever tire of being classified as "a Latina writer"? The author of the novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 1991) says she's proud to be part of a chorus of multicultural voices in America, though she adds it's "sometimes not so much a chorus but a shouting match." In her early work, she felt pressure to translate the events of her life into American experiences. "I thought that's what you had to do.... I was pre-multicultural," Alvarez says.
Alvarez's Dominican roots are at the heart of her latest novel, ¡Yo! (Algonquin, 1997), which revisits the life of Yolanda, one of her celebrated Garcia girls.
Mother Jones asked Alvarez what music and literature she's enjoyed lately. Here's what she had to say about Grandes Exitos de Juan Luis Guerra (Karen Publishing, 1996), "radical merengue" from Guerra and the Dominican group 4 40:
"They've taken merengue, our traditional kind of music, but they've made it kind of contemporary and politicized it. It ends up being a very powerful statement about poverty in the countryside."
Also recommended by Alvarez:
Drown (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996) by Dominican author Junot Díaz. "The collection is Díaz's first. He's really part of the next wave, the next generation coming up of such powerful writers. For me, to hear the Dominican rhythms and street talk in English was wonderful."
Complete Poems: 1927-1979 (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990) by Elizabeth Bishop. "I love how she's able to write in form, with such control and yet such a wonderful, casual, observing voice. Bishop lived in Brazil for over 20 years. She's got this mixed vision of her experience in Brazil with an American sensibility that is wonderful."