Introductions: Luis Alberto Urrea
May 22, 2020
By Ruth Dickey, SAL Executive Director
Two years ago, Seattle Arts & Lectures had the pleasure of presenting Luis Alberto Urrea at a conference as part of a panel about place and narrative. The event began with each panelist reading for ten minutes, and Luis was the final one to read. He strolled to the microphone and delivered the first ten minutes of The House of Broken Angels from memory, as if he were looking us each in the eye and telling us a story, while the huge audience sat utterly silent, hanging on every word. In that moment, I understood why NPR has called Urrea “a literary badass” and “a master storyteller.” Literary badass and master storyteller indeed!
Urrea is the author of seventeen works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and his many awards include a Lannan Literary Award, an Edgar Award, and a 2017 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Fiction. He is a member of the Latino Literature hall of fame and was a finalist for the Pulitzer for nonfiction. Urrea’s best-selling books have been chosen by over 100 cities and colleges around the country as community reads.
His most recent work, The House of Broken Angels, is a riveting story of family and love and loss and mortality. It’s a book about what matters, what it means to love, and what it means to be brave. In one of my favorite passages, Urrea describes how a character faces death in this way:
“Big Angel sighed. Rubbed his face. Thought about how much he’d miss rubbing his face. Everything was precious to him suddenly. Sighing. What a wonderful thing it was to sigh. Geraniums. Why did he have to leave geraniums behind?”
This passage captures what I love about Urrea’s writing—irresistible characters and prose that illuminates the overlooked beauty that is all around us, in pulling up stockings or in silence, in cilantro or eggs frying in hot lard, in sighing or geraniums.
Luis Alberto Urrea gave an online lecture on May 20, 2020, as part of our 2019/20 Literary Arts Series; SAL Executive Director Ruth Dickey delivered this introduction.