Reading Together 2012 Blog

A message from Luis Alberto Urrea...

Dear Kalamazoo:

Ever since leaving your fine city and your excellent Reading Together program events, my wife and I have been talking about you. To each other. To bookstores. To other writers. We hold you up as a model to other all-city read programs. No question Kalamazoo does it right.

It's a rare and wonderful thing for an author to share his work with such a cross-section of a community as I did with Kalamazoo. To be able to meet with readers is always grand, but to be welcomed as a friend by so many, across such different platforms was an incredible experience. I know you appreciate the amazing work of your librarians and the Reading Together committee that made it all possible because you were so warm and responsive. We never ran out of things to talk about! I was only disappointed to not be able to attend ALL the events.

I was especially touched by the artwork done by the high school students and showcased in your spectacular library. I will be posting pictures of some of that work. As an artist, to inspire other artists is a dream come true. It also meant so much to me to have the support of my friend (and your own literary heroine) Bonnie Jo Campbell. A special thanks to you for inviting her to be involved with your program. That shows a great literary commitment all the way through your community.

I was especially heartened by the fact that you forged a bond with Kankakee, IL. I think the the future is being written by towns like Kankakee and Kalamazoo and I am so honored that my novel could play a part.

On a personal note, I just have to say that your librarians and staff people were spectacular. I enjoyed every minute of your company. I deeply appreciated your generosity and I have to say doing an event in front of a few hundred kindergartners was probably the coolest tour experience of the last year!

Thank you to Karen Santamaria and everyone on the Reading Together committee. Thank you for selecting my novel Into the Beautiful North, thank you for reading, and most of all, thank you for your friendship and support. Hope to see you again soon!

Luis Alberto Urrea

P.S. Oh yeah, best donuts we ever had, too!


Luis Alberto Urrea at Kalamazoo Public Library

Basking in the glow

If you were not able to attend Luis Urrea’s presentation last week, you missed a wonderfully engaging evening of storytelling and music provided by Kalamazoo’s own Los Bandits de Michigan. Fear not, however. Thanks to our friends at Public Media Network, we are pleased to offer four opportunities to watch the rebroadcast of the evening on channel 95. Here is the schedule: 

  • Tuesday, March 13 7 pm
  • Wednesday, March 14 1 pm
  • Monday, March 19 9 pm
  • Thursday, March 22 7 pm


Whether or not you’ve read Into the Beautiful North, you are bound to enjoy Urrea’s easy-going manner and his humorous yet poignant remarks. In fact, if you’re like many people I’ve spoken to since, chances are you’ll be inspired to check out several of his award-winning titles.


Luis Urrea in Kalamazoo

Urrea’s Visit is Timely

When I came to Kalamazoo twelve years ago, I knew it was a special place. We are lucky to have so many arts organizations, cultural events, and an award-winning public library that sponsors Reading Together! We are even luckier that this year’s Reading Together author, Luis Urrea, visits Kalamazoo next week.

Urrea will speak on Tuesday, March 6, at 7 pm in the Kalamazoo Central High School Auditorium. This is a free event, and all are invited to hear Urrea speak about Into the Beautiful North, writing, and being “dual culture.” Come listen to the music of local Tex-Mex band Los Bandits de Michigan and even have a book signed by the author!

You will also have a chance to meet Urrea on Wednesday, March 7 at noon in Kalamazoo College’s Light Fine Arts Building Recital Hall. Urrea will be working with a Kalamazoo College class, talking about the craft of writing, and exploring issues of crossing borders. He will also address the recent “Librotraficante” movement and the banning of his books from the Tucson, Arizona Unified School District. This event is free, open to the public, and snacks will be provided after the class.

Urrea’s visit is timely. With the controversy over prohibiting ethnic studies in Arizona (HB 2281), Urrea can give us a “banned author’s” perspective on the issue. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to interact with the author, ask questions, and explore border crossings of your own.

~Dr. Stacy Nowicki, Library Director, Kalamazoo College Library


Luis Alberto Urrea

Podcast: Discovering Kankakee

Reading about an author or artist is one sure way to gain insight into that person’s creative process, but hearing authors tell about their work in their own words often seems to add a new dimension to our understanding. With that in mind I headed out for a dog hike yesterday and quickly grabbed a couple of podcasts to listen to along the way. I was interested to learn more about Reading Together author Luis Alberto Urrea; here’s some of what I what I found.

One standout was an interesting interview with Urrea from January 2011 that was posted by the National Endowment for the Arts on its blog called “Art Works.” Interestingly, Urrea talks about getting to know the town of Kankakee, Illinois, (important in Into the Beautiful North) and his discovery of the public library there.

According to Urrea, the Kankakee Public Library had become the cultural centerpiece of a citywide revitalization project. “They made the library a highly computerized, safe open-late-at-night haven for kids go to, free of gang violence,” says Urrea. “It was an amazing turnaround of a town who figured it out on their own.” (The story, it seems, is not at all unlike the recent revitalization of downtown Kalamazoo, where our own world class library is a community centerpiece.) “This new public library has become the cultural hub of the city,” Urrea later wrote in the New York Times, “crucial to its downtown revitalization.”

It’s an interesting story; give it a listen. You can download a copy for yourself and/or read a transcript on the Art Works blog.

Art Works Podcast: Discovering Kankakee


Next time, I’ll share more findings about Into the Beautiful North; including a recent podcast recorded last November that includes some discussion with Urrea about his upcoming visit to Kalamazoo on March 6th. Stay tuned.


Art Works Podcast: Discovering Kankakee

Meet the author - Luis Urrea

I have been trying to keep up with Luis Urrea's public life while he is on tour promoting his new book, Queen of America. He blogs regularly on his website and shares little snippets about his travels on Facebook and Twitter. The more I read, the more excited I get for his visit to Kalamazoo in March. Did you know there will be several opportunities, including one for a Spanish-speaking audience, to see/hear Urrea in person on March 6th and 7th? You can find all the details here.

In the meantime, you might be interested to read Urrea's own words about writing Into the Beautiful North (scroll down past the description of the book). I particularly enjoy his humility, his honesty and his sense of humor, and I so look forward to witnessing them in person in just a few short weeks.


Meet Luis Urrea

Urrea’s Newest Book

I just finished reading Queen of America, Urrea’s new book and the sequel to The Hummingbird’s Daughter which Eleanore wrote about last week.

I didn’t read them in order. Actually I’m still on the waiting list for Hummingbird’s Daughter, but I certainly understood and appreciated Queen of America. It didn’t feel as if I was starting in the middle of a story.

Queen of America continues the story of Teresita Urrea, the “Saint of Cabora” when she is forced to flee with her father from Mexico to Arizona. Even there she is claimed as the spiritual leader of the Mexican Revolution and pilgrims and assassins follow her to America. She then leaves the southwest for a journey across the country: New York, San Francisco, St Louis, among other cities. Along the way, she must decide if a saint can fall in love.

I knew these two books were based on Urrea’s family history, his great aunt, I believe, but I didn’t know the details. After reading it, I went to his website to understand the family history that is the basis for the story. In retrospect, I wish I had understood just how much of this account was true before reading the book.

I’ve now read several of Urrea’s books. They are different from each other in many ways, but all are well-written and compelling. I’m looking forward to his visit in March.


Queen of America

Reading [and participating] Together

“Suddenly there was no work. All the shrimp were shipped north, tortillas became too expensive to eat, and people started to go hungry. We told you change was bad, the old-timers croaked.

Nobody had heard of the term immigration. Migration, to them, was when the tuna and the whales cruised up the coast, or when Guacamaya parrots flew up from the south.  Traditionalists voted to revoke electricity, but it was far too late for that. No woman in town would give up her refrigerator, her electric fan, or her electric iron. So the men started to go to el norte. Nobody knew what to say. Nobody knew what to do. The modern era had somehow passed Tres Camarones by, but this new storm had found a way to siphon its men away. out of their beds and into the next century, into a land far away.” —Into the Beautiful North

This passage from the opening pages of Luis Urrea's Into the Beautiful North paints a picture of a Mexican village not unlike one we might read about in today's news. And for the fictitious Tres Camarones, there is the added presence of drug bandits who are threatening to take over the village with corruption, violence and greed; also sadly true to life. This is the setting from which Nayeli, a 19-year old girl, born and raised in Tres Camarones, sets out in search of her father and other men who will come back home to repopulate and defend their village.

And for the next three months, this will become our story as well.

A dedicated group of volunteers has helped Kalamazoo Public Library plan an exciting and meaningful lineup of Reading Together events that center on three far-reaching themes: The Book as Literature, The Culture of Mexico, and Immigration. After reading the book, we believe participating in these programs will provide several ways to process and reflect.

Today we bring you the enhanced Reading Together website, complete with a full calendar of events, additional resources, and more information about those who have contributed to this planning process. We welcome your reactions and your feedback, and we invite you to come back often.


Reading Together