Interview: Luis Alberto Urrea

Luis Alberto Urrea is the son of a Mexican father and an American mother. The critically acclaimed and best-selling author of 13 books, Urrea has won numerous awards for his poetry, fiction, and essays. The Devil’s Highway, his 2004 non-fiction account of a group of Mexican immigrants lost in the Arizona desert, won the Lannan Literary Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His novel The Hummingbird’s Daughter tells the story of Teresa Urrea, sometimes known as the Saint of Cabora and the Mexican Joan of Arc.

After serving as a relief worker in Tijuana and a film extra and columnist-editor-cartoonist for several publications, Urrea moved to Boston, where he taught expository writing and fiction workshops at Harvard. He has also taught at Massachusetts Bay Community College and the University of Colorado. The interviewer first met Urrea at the Fishtrap writing conference in 2006, and some of her questions refer to statements he made there.

The Fourth River: You have said that “Writers build bridges, not borders.” Can you talk about the bridges you have built with your writing, and where they have taken you?

Luis Alberto Urrea: I hope I have built bridges. Perhaps a clearer metaphor is one I have been using lately: Writers like me stand outside the wall and throw love notes over the top, hoping somebody will find them.

It makes me feel a little pretentious to start listing all the ways in which I’ve saved the world. But if you’re asking about pure mediums of communication, I always say that from the first book on, I have tried to give voice to the voiceless and to make connections between people who had never thought much about each other. For example, the denizens of the Tijuana garbage dump and sophisticated readers in the United States, border patrol and Chicanos, curanderas and Jesuits.

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