Luis Alberto Urrea’s reading in Berkeley was more a recap of how the act of living has prepared Urrea to write his fantastic stories. How he learned that “sooner or later, the stories you’re told not to repeat become the stories people want to hear.”
The evening started with Urrea going over the story of his parents, how they met and married, his upbringing in the border towns of Tijuana and San Diego, the insane cast of characters he called familia, how his childhood home was transformed into a micro-version of the US-México border, and how the tragic death of his father all led up to the start of his writing career.
Another story recalls Urrea’s time in the Tijuana landfill where he was keeping a journal of the events around him. A local asks if he is writing everything down, when Urrea confirms he is detailing all he can, the local tenses with emotion. Urrea is unsure if the local is going to hit him or hug him but the local responds, “I was born in this dump. I’ve always lived by the dump. And, when I die, they’ll bury me in the dump. You tell them, tell them that I was here.”
It’s these moments when you feel like writing is not a hobby or chore, an endless debate over what is inclusive or exclusive; it’s these moments that you know you write because it is your purpose in the world. This balance between the wonder of the universe and detail to the everyday came out as Urrea read from his newest novel, Into the Beautiful North.
A wonderful Q&A followed where Urrea spoke of how he balances his father and mother languages, the way he deals with the tragedies in his writing, the importance of choosing the right mentors, and, one of his most important messages to audiences, to always leave a record of who you are. (Barb’s thoughts on the reading are here.)
Definitely the right messages, backed up by excellent prose, from a writer who understands the point of writing is to bear witness to “the daily sacred.”