Hailed by NPR as a “master storyteller with a rock and roll heart,” Luis Alberto Urrea is a prolific and acclaimed best-selling poet, novelist, and essayist who uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss, and triumph.
Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother and raised primarily in the United States, Urrea often felt like there was a border wall running through his family’s San Diego apartment, the kitchen being the United States; the living room Mexico, one side struggling with all her might to make him an American boy, and the other side, with all of his might, trying to keep him Mexican. Often confused as a child by his own dual culture, a “super-American look” combined with a “super-Mexican outlook and accent,” as an adult, Urrea realized that he could draw on his heritage in his work.
Most recognized as a so-called “border writer,” he claims to be more interested in bridges than borders. The tragic murder of his father on a trip to his home village to retrieve money to spend on Urrea’s college graduation inadvertently launched his writing career when he wrote an essay about the incident published in 1980 as way of processing his grief.
A 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, Urrea since became the critically acclaimed and best-selling author of 17 books, winning numerous awards like the Lannan Literary Award, an Edgar Award, and a 2017 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, among many other honors.
His latest book, The House of Broken Angels, released in 2018, is “the story of an American family—one that happens to speak Spanish, and admire the Virgin of Guadalupe.” Inspired by the death of his brother, Urrea’s novel mines his own family history to tell a once-in-a-lifetime tale about a dying patriarch that assembles his relatives for a final, epic birthday party, well knowing it will be his last. Over the course of one weekend, the family members reminisce under the San Diego sun and stars, sharing stories about growing up in and then leaving Mexico to make a home in the U.S.
Urrea attended the University of California at San Diego, earning an undergraduate degree in writing, and did his graduate studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He currently lives with his family in Naperville, IL, outside of Chicago, and is a distinguished professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago.