Acclaimed author gives virtual Hearst Lecture

KIMBERLY CAVALIER, Staff Writer

On Thursday, Oct. 1, UNI’s Department of Languages and Literatures hosted critically acclaimed author Luis Alberto Urrea as part of their 2019-2020 Hearst Lecture Series focused on borders and border crossing.

Urrea, born in Tijuana, Mexico and raised along the U.S.-Mexico border, has a long list of accolades. He has written 17 books, is a member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He spoke to UNI students about his life in Mexico and the U.S., the many borders that exist for him as a writer and a teacher and more.

“I think we’re all chameleons,” said Urrea. “We all change color and tone to get by, which ended up being a great gift to me as a writer… I ended up feeling a great kinship with people, because I understood what it felt like to sort of be left out.”

Urrea spoke about his experience as a missionary in his hometown of Tijuana, and how it was the “nugget of his writing life.” His understanding of both the Spanish language and life in Tijuana allowed him to make deep connections with the locals, and it was this experience that inspired him to write various bestselling novels, such as “Across the Wire,” “Tijuana Book of the Dead,” “By the Lake of Sleeping Children” and more.

Urrea crosses not only geographical borders, but literary borders too. Although he is perhaps best known for his books about the U.S.-Mexico border, he has also won an Edgar Award for best short story from the Mystery Writers of America. He cites his background growing up in a working-class family as one of the reasons he is able to do this.

“When I wanted to be a writer, I thought that it was like being a plumber, or being a journeyman, a carpenter,” he said. “So, I thought, we have to have a full tool kit.”

Urrea also imparted various pieces of advice to UNI’s up-and-coming young writers that were tuning into his lecture.

“Sometime, somewhere, someone will see the value in your work,” he said. “And as a codicil to that, I would say forget fame, forget fortune, forget millions of copies and fans; just do a good story, do a good book. See what happens.”