Alvarez Speaks on the Power of Storytelling

Julia Alvarez emphasized that now is “especially the time for butterflies” in her speech at the Lied Center on Sunday night. The NEA Big Read and Read Across Lawrence programs highlighted Alvarez’s novel -“In the Time of Butterflies” this year and sponsored this lecture in which Alvarez promoted the power of storytelling and activism in today’s world.

The author of 19 books, Alvarez immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when she was 14 years old. Her family fled the country to escape from the Trujillo dictatorship and her love of reading began shortly after her arrival.

“In 1960, when we landed in New York, new immigrants without money for extras, librarians put books in my hands,” Alvarez said. “They encouraged me in ways my parents could not in navigating my way through the world of story in a new language.”

Alvarez’s novel follows the true story of the four Mirabel sisters who opposed the Trujillo dictatorship and ran covert activities that eventually led to their assassination in 1960. Now honored with the  International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the sisters are recognized as symbols of feminist resistance.

“In our community conversations surrounding ‘In the Time of the Butterflies,’ readers who might have never crossed each other’s paths were brought together and that is at the heart of what the NEA Big Read and Read Across Lawrence are about,” said Kevin Smith, dean of the University of Kansas Libraries.

Alvarez illustrated the impact of storytelling in history by telling stories of the Mirabel sisters and various fables such as a young person delaying execution by telling the king fantastical tales.

“We think that in order to advance the path of freedom, we have to do grand things, but in fact, all of the Mirabel sisters came to that courage in small, incremental steps,” Alvarez said. “In some ways, we become brave almost by accident.”

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