The Center for Fiction Presents Julia Alvarez on The Cemetery of Untold Stories with Edwidge Danticat
Tuesday, 7:00 pm EST April 2, 2024
The Center for Fiction
Julia Alvarez, literary icon and author of In the Time of the Butterflies, joins The Center for Fiction to discuss her magical new novel, The Cemetery of Untold Stories. Alvarez’s highly anticipated new work follows Alma Cruz, a writer who wants to lay her untold stories to rest by creating a graveyard where she buries her unfinished drafts and manuscripts. But despite their burial, Alma’s characters come to life, defying their author by sharing their secret stories. Set in Alvarez’s homeland of the Dominican Republic, the novel is a heartfelt love letter to storytelling and its power to bring people together. Alvarez is joined in conversation by acclaimed author, Edwidge Danticat (Breath, Eyes, Memory). Alvarez and Danticat, two esteemed authors of Caribbean American fiction, sit down for a rousing discussion about the novel and its questions regarding whose stories get to be told and what happens if our tales end. After the conversation, Alvarez will sign books.
Julia Alvarez left the Dominican Republic for the United States in 1960 at the age of ten. She is the author of six novels, three books of nonfiction, three collections of poetry, and eleven books for children and young adults. She has taught and mentored writers in schools and communities across America and, until her retirement in 2016, was a writer in residence at Middlebury College. Her work has garnered wide recognition, including a Latina Leader Award in Literature from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, the Woman of the Year by Latina magazine, and inclusion in the New York Public Library’s program “The Hand of the Poet: Original Manuscripts by 100 Masters, from John Donne to Julia Alvarez.” In the Time of the Butterflies, with over one million copies in print, was selected by the National Endowment for the Arts for its national Big Read program, and in 2013 President Obama awarded Alvarez the National Medal of Arts in recognition of her extraordinary storytelling.
Photo Credit: Todd Balfour
Edwidge Danticat is the author of several books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection, Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist, The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner; the novels-in-stories, The Dew Breaker, Claire of the Sea Light, and The Art of Death, a National Book Critics Circle finalist for Criticism. She has written seven books for children and young adults, a travel narrative, After the Dance, and a collection of essays, Create Dangerously. Her memoir, Brother, I’m Dying, was a 2007 finalist for the National Book Award and a 2008 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. Her story collection, Everything Inside, was a 2020 winner of The Story Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Fiction Prize. She is a 2009 MacArthur Fellow, and is currently the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Professor of the Humanities in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Demme
The Cemetery of Untold Stories
By Julia Alvarez
Published by Alonquin Books
Alma Cruz, the celebrated writer at the heart of The Cemetery of Untold Stories, doesn’t want to end up like her friend, a novelist who fought so long and hard to finish a book that it threatened her sanity. So when Alma inherits a small plot of land in the Dominican Republic, her homeland, she has the beautiful idea of turning it into a place to bury her untold stories—literally. She creates a graveyard for the manuscript drafts and revisions, and the characters whose lives she tried and failed to bring to life and who still haunt her.
Alma wants her characters to rest in peace. But they have other ideas, and the cemetery becomes a mysterious sanctuary for their true narratives. Filomena, a local woman hired as the groundskeeper, becomes a sympathetic listener as Alma’s characters unspool their secret tales. Among them: Bienvenida, the abandoned second wife of dictator Rafael Trujillo, consigned to oblivion by history, and Manuel Cruz, a doctor who fought in the Dominican underground and escaped to the United States.
The characters defy their author: they talk back to her and talk to one another behind her back, rewriting and revising themselves. The Cemetery of Untold Stories asks: Whose stories get to be told, and whose buried? Finally, Alma finds the meaning she and her characters yearn for in the everlasting vitality of stories.
Readers of Isabel Allende’s Violeta and Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead will devour Alvarez’s extraordinary new novel about beauty and authenticity, and will be reminded that the stories of our lives are never truly finished, even at the end.
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