By Barbara Dills
Sopris Sun Correspondent
Luis Alberto Urrea, the author of 16 books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, including the 2004 Pulitzer Prize finalist “The Devil’s Highway: A True Story,” visits the Roaring Fork Valley later this month and will speak at the Third Street Center on Thursday, Sept. 1, at 6 p.m. “The Devil’s Highway” was the local 2012 Big Read selection through a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and Aspen Words that culminated in Urrea’s fluidly bilingual presentation to a packed Third Street Center gym.
Urrea (pronounced oo-RAY-uh) grew up in Tijuana and San Diego, the son of a Mexican father and an American mother, and experienced firsthand the complex reality and porous nature of the U.S.-Mexico border, themes that have inspired much of his work. For “The Devil’s Highway,” Urrea investigated the harrowing attempts of 26 men to cross the border into the desert of southern Arizona in May 2001. The book documents their often tragic experience, humanizing immigration issues through the personal stories of these men, their families, and those whose job it is to enforce the law. He is the author of three additional nonfiction titles: “Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border,” “By the Lake of Sleeping Children” and the memoir, “Nobody’s Son: Notes from an American Life,” the novels “The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” “Queen of American,” and “Into the Beautiful North,” and several other titles. His most recent book is the story collection “The Water Museum,” which was a finalist for the 2015 PEN-Faulkner Award and was named a best book of the year by “The Washington Post” and “Kirkus Reviews,” among others.
Urrea is also the recipient of the American Book Award and the Lannan Literary Award and in 2000 was inducted into the Latino Literature Hall of Fame. In the introduction to an interview with the author, the NEA website offers this description: “His work transcends media stereotypes and contemporary immigration disputes, revealing the border as a place of connection as well as divide.” The article goes on to quote him from a 2011 interview with the University of Colorado’s “Coloradan” magazine. Said Urrea, “The Mexican border is a metaphor. Borders everywhere are a symbol of what divides us. That’s what interests me.”
His appearance on Sept. 1 benefits the El Jebel-based nonprofit English In Action, whose mission is “to strengthen the quality of life for all Roaring Fork Valley residents by helping adult immigrants learn to read, write and speak English, and by building cross-cultural bridges.”
Presented in collaboration with The Sopris Sun, the event is designed to be accessible to both native English and native Spanish speakers. Admission is by a $10 suggested minimum donation at the door. Thanks to the generous support of local sponsors, a number of free tickets will be available for students, teachers and others for whom the suggested admission fee is a hardship. These free tickets may be reserved in advance by calling 963- 9200.
“We are thrilled to have an author of Luis Alberto Urrea’s caliber to help showcase English In Action’s work helping immigrants become more engaged members of our community through improving their English language skills,” said Lara Beaulieu, the organization’s executive director. “Luis has written eloquently and extensively on identity and border issues. He understands better than most the importance of building bridges rather than walls between cultures. Plus, he is a passionate and inspiring speaker. We are honored to present him to the Roaring Fork Valley community.”
In addition to his Sept. 1 appearance in Carbondale, on Wednesday, Aug. 31 from 5 to 7 p.m., Urrea will be the featured speaker at English In Action’s key annual fundraiser, to be held this year at Casa Tua Aspen. The intimate event includes a cocktail reception and presentation by the author. Space is limited. Tickets for the Aspen event may be purchased at www.EnglishInAction.org.
Published in The Sopris Sun on August 25, 2016.