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Author Luis Urrea shares 'Into the Beautiful North' with virtual audience

Published on October 22, 2020

Author Luis Urrea shares 'Into the Beautiful North' with virtual audience

Luis Urrea
Luis Urrea 

On Oct. 14, more than 500 members of the Eastern Connecticut State University and local Willimantic, CT, communities enjoyed a virtual lecture by author Luis Alberto Urrea, who discussed his book, “Into the Beautiful North.” Urrea, author of several volumes of poetry and a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction, discussed the book and his prolific career as a writer as part of the national “Big Read” program.

Eastern received a federal grant to host the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) ‘Big Read’ program this fall, which features Urrea’s book. The Big Read is an NEA program in partnership with Arts Midwest.

Beginning Oct. 7 and running through Dec. 3, Eastern is leading a series of local events as part of the annual Big Read program. The Big Read is designed to broaden understanding of the world, communities and human beings through the joy of reading. Urrea did not disappoint, sharing his thoughts on what it means when more than 100 cities and colleges across America have chosen one of his 18 books for a community reading.

The first person in his family to go to college, Urrea called himself “a poor boy who wanted to be rich, but who, unfortunately, didn’t pick a career to make money. I wanted to write, so I started writing journals.”

He said he struggled a lot with writer’s block, trying to figure out where to start on stories. “One day a man living in a garbage dump asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ I told him I am writing about what I see. He asked me, ‘Would you write about me?’ I said yes. I was born in that garbage dump.”

Urrea encouraged his audience not to listen to naysayers who encourage them not to write if they feel the need to write. He recalled once being told that nobody cares about starving Mexicans. He said his response was, “Well, I do. That’s why I write!”

He added, “Don’t worry about marketing and the public when you start. Just care about what you want to write about and go do what you must do! Always say to yourself ‘I cannot not do what I need to do.’”

Book cover Urrea said “Into the Beautiful North” is a hero’s journey about a woman who comes back to save her people. The book tells the story of an idealistic 19-year-old woman who is inspired by the film “The Magnificent Seven” to travel from her home in Mexico to the United States. Her goal is to convince a bunch of men who left her town to return and help protect it from drug dealers.

“I wanted to explore, with compassion and humor, the microcultures within the border world, from the residents of a Tijuana garbage dump to the upscale neighborhoods of San Diego and reveal that the distance between them is not as great as one might think.”

Eastern’s First Year Program has incorporated Urrea’s book as required reading into the First Year Introduction seminar for all incoming freshmen. Students, faculty and staff across the university have engaged with this timely novel and participate in campus-wide discussions, guest lectures, films and other programming related to the book.

Eastern’s Big Read partners include the Willimantic Public Library, the CLICK community kitchen in Willimantic, the City of New London and others.  In addition, libraries hosting Big Read discussions include Bloomfield Public Library, Canton Public Library, First Church of Christ in Mansfield, the Interfaith Working Group of Willimantic, Willimantic Public Library, the Public Library of New London, Scranton Memorial Library, Andover Public Library, Fairfield Public Library, the Simsbury Public Library, Canterbury Public Library and James Blackstone Memorial Library.

Urrea vows to keep to his original promise to bear witness to what he saw: “To use the God-given gift of language to tell a story about humanity.”

Written by Dwight Bachman

Categories: Art Gallery