MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-Writer in residence Julia Alvarez, a member of the Middlebury Class of 1971, became the 14th recipient of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature at a conference at Montgomery College in Rockville. Md., in October.
Previous recipients of the Fitzgerald Award include John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer, Edward Albee, Grace Paley, E.L. Doctorow, William Kennedy, Jane Smiley and the 2008 recipient, Elmore Leonard.
Alvarez, the author of the best-selling novels How the García Girls Lost their Accents, ¡Yo! and In the Time of the Butterflies, was honored to be included with literary figures such as Updike, Oates, and Mailer.
"When I read the roster of earlier recipients," she said, "I felt a little of what President Obama must have felt upon hearing he won the Nobel Peace Prize. But neither one of us is giving our respective honors back! We'll just have to work harder to make sure we deserve to be in the company of the Great Ones who have gone before us."
Alvarez writes fiction, poetry, and essays, and is considered one of the leading Latina writers for young audiences in the world today. Her works have been translated into Spanish, Japanese, French, Hebrew, German, Portuguese, Korean, Turkish and other languages, and she's been a member of the Middlebury faculty since 1988.
She was introduced at the conference by Roberto B. Saladin, the Dominican Republic's ambassador to the United States, and by Blake Robison, the executive director of Montgomery County's Round House Theatre. Saladin said Alvarez makes Dominicans everywhere very proud of their cultural heritage. Robison, who directed the premiere performance of the stage adaptation of How the García Girls Lost their Accents, termed her "the most critically and commercially successful Latina writer of her time."
Alvarez spoke briefly to the gathered students, faculty, writers, and F. Scott Fitzgerald enthusiasts. "It is thrilling for any writer to be honored this way," she said, "but how doubly thrilling for me having come such a long journey to this moment. In 1960, as a 10-year-old immigrant girl from the Dominican Republic from a whole other culture and language, I never thought that someday I would be called 'an American writer.' That someday I would receive an award named after an iconic American writer like F. Scott Fitzgerald. And that someday my books would be in a library a few shelves away from his and just above Emily Dickinson's and beside Louisa May Alcott and Jane Austen."
The F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference is sponsored by Montgomery College, Gazette Newspapers, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society, Round House Theatre, and the Peerless Rockville Historic Preservation Society. Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, who wrote The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise, died in 1940. He's buried in Rockville's Saint Mary's Cemetery.
Judy Ackerman, the provost of Montgomery College, drew a parallel between Alvarez and Fitzgerald when she opened the conference with this quote from Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies: "A novel is not after all a historical document, but a way to travel through the human heart."
So it was that Julia Alvarez's journey and the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald were the primary topics of discussion at a literary conference in October just outside Washington, D.C.