Ransom Center acquires rare documents of Dominican-American writer

Tucker Whatley

The Harry Ransom Center has acquired the archive of Dominican-American writer Julia Alvarez, best known for her novels that explore the American immigrant experience.

“Many of us at the Ransom Center have long admired Julia Alvarez’s writings,” said Megan Barnard, assistant director for acquisitions and administration for the Ransom Center. “When we learned from her literary agent that she wanted to find a home for her archive, we immediately expressed our interest.”

Though the Ransom Center has received the archive, Barnard said she did not know how long it would take for the contents to be catalogued and made available to the public.

Alvarez has published a wide range of work in her career, ranging from poetry and essays to novels such as “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents” and “In the Time of the Butterflies.” The materials within this archive include manuscripts, letters, journals and other rare documents. 

“What is so wonderful about her work, other than its lyrical quality and her gift for evoking place, is that so much of it is semi-autobiographical,” said Domino R. Perez, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies. “She continues to draw on her life and the lives of those she grew up with to give those experiences and lives meaning.”

Alvarez was born in New York City but lived in the Dominican Republic from the time she was three months old until she was 10 years old. Her family then fled to the United States when her father was involved in an attempt to overthrow Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. The difficulties she faced as an immigrant and her bicultural identity are subjects that are at the heart of much of her writing, according to associate English professor John M. Gonzalez.

“She was really one of the first writers to bring to light the story of Dominican-Americans and the Dominican-American diaspora,” Gonzalez said. “In particular, she has an amazing ability to tell the story of … the way Dominican-American women have responded within that diaspora.”

Once the archive is fully catalogued it will be a valuable asset to visitors of the Ransom Center, Gonzalez said.

“It’s a treasure-trove for scholars who are interested in the way stories are put together,” Gonzalez said. “It’s always interesting to see within that process what she left in and what she left out. Things always drop out in the creative process, and what gets left out can sometimes be as revealing as what is left in.”