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Luis Alberto Urrea

Luis Alberto Urrea
head and shoulders of Urrea with light brown hair, black glasses, with a goatee
Luis Alberto Urrea at the 2015 Texas Book Festival.
Born (1955-08-20) August 20, 1955 (age 68)
Tijuana, Mexico
OccupationNovelist, essayist
NationalityMexican and American
Alma materUniversity of California, San Diego, University of Colorado at Boulder
Genrespoetry, novel, nonfiction
Notable worksNobody's Son: Notes from an American Life, The Hummingbird's Daughter
Notable awardsAmerican Book Award 1999
Latino Literature Hall of Fame 2000
Edgar Award 2010
Lannan Literary Award 2004

Luis Alberto Urrea (born August 20, 1955 in Tijuana, Mexico)[1] is a Mexican-American poet, novelist, and essayist.


Luis Urrea is the son of Alberto Urrea Murray, of Rosario, Sinaloa, Mexico and Phyllis Dashiell, born in Staten Island, New York. He was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and listed as an American born abroad.[1] Both his parents worked in San Diego. The family moved to Logan Heights in South San Diego, because he had tuberculosis and they felt he would recover in the US.[1][2] The family moved again in 1965 to Clairemont, a newer subdivision in the city of San Diego.[1] His mother encouraged him to write and encouraged him to attend college and to apply for grants that would help pay for his college education.[2] He attended the University of California, San Diego, earning an undergraduate degree in writing in 1977.[1] Urrea completed his graduate studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His father was murdered on a trip to his home village in 1977, seeking money there to spend on his son's college education.[1][2] This motivated Urrea to write an essay that was published in 1980, as way of processing his grief.[2]

After serving as a relief worker in Tijuana, he worked as a teachers aide in the Chicano Studies department in San Diego's Mesa College in 1978. He also worked as a film extra and columnist-editor-cartoonist for several publications. In June 1982 Urrea moved to Boston where he taught expository writing and fiction workshops at Harvard University. He has also taught at Massachusetts Bay Community College, and the University of Colorado, and he was the writer in residence at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Urrea married in 1987, and later divorced in 1993. In 1994, Urrea's first novel, In Search of Snow, was published. His mother died in 1990, bringing Urrea back to California to settle her affairs, and parts of Across the Wire were published in the San Diego Reader.[1]

Urrea lives with his family in Naperville, Illinois, where he is a professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.[3]

In two heavily researched historical novels, The Hummingbird's Daughter and Queen of America, Urrea tells the story of his father's aunt, Teresita Urrea, who was known as "The Saint of Cabora" and "The Mexican Joan of Arc."


Urrea's first book, Across the Wire, was named a New York Times Notable Book and won the Christopher Award in 1993.

In 1994, he won the Colorado Book Award in poetry for The Fever of Being[4] as well as the Western States Book Award in poetry. He was also included in The 1996 Best American Poetry collection.

In 1999, Urrea won an American Book Award for his memoir, Nobody's Son: Notes from an American Life.[5]

His book of short stories, Six Kinds of Sky, was named the 2002 small-press Book of the Year in fiction by the editors of ForeWord magazine.[6]

In 2000, he was voted into the Latino Literature Hall of Fame[6] following the publication of Vatos.

The Devil's Highway won the 2004 Lannan Literary Award,[7] the Border Regional Library Association's Southwest Book Award,[8] and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and for the Pacific Rim Kiriyama Prize. It was also optioned for a film by CDI Producciones. The book was adopted as the 2010 One Book for Sac State.[9]

His short story "Amapola", which can be found in Phoenix Noir edited by Patrick Millikin and Urrea's own The Water Museum, won the Edgar Award in 2010 for best mystery short story.[10]

In 2019, he was presented the Founders Award at the Tucson Festival of Books. The award recognizes exceptional literary achievement.[11]


Mythili G. Rao of the New York Times compares both of Urrea's heavily researched novels in an article titled "The Most Dangerous Girl in Mexico goes to America"; Rao writes, "Where The Hummingbird's Daughter was driven by an otherworldly mysticism and the call of fate, its sequel is largely occupied with the ordinary troubles of mortal life".[12] Stacey D'Erasmo, also from the New York Times has reviewed Urrea's novel "The Hummingbird's Daughter". Praising him for his literature style she writes, "The style that Urrea has adopted to tell Teresita's—and Mexico's—story [is]...simultaneously dreamy, telegraphic and quietly lyrical. Like a vast mural, the book displays a huge cast of workers, whores, cowboys, rich men, bandits and saints while simultaneously making them seem to float on the page".[13] Joanne Omang, from the Washington Post writes, "The Hummingbird's Daughter is paced beautifully, inexorable and slow-seeming as life itself. The daily trivia of Teresita's childhood is as fascinating as the punctuations of amazements, beauties and horrors".[14] Luis Alberto Urrea is also admired by Sandra Dijkstra of Publishers Weekly; she writes, "His brilliant prose is saturated with the cadences and insights of Latin-American magical realism and tempered by his exacting reporter's eye and extensive historical investigation".[15]

The House of Broken Angels, his novel published in March 2018, is based in part on the death of the author's eldest brother, his half-brother raised in Mexico. Urrea said in an interview with Terry Gross that he expanded the novel with a sense of the status between Mexico and the United States since Trump became president of the US in 2017: "But then as I expanded it, ... it started taking on more of a cultural statement and turned into a novel, which seemed to want to become epic. I couldn't shake my growing sense of rage and astonishment at the tone."[16] Michael Upchurch in the Chicago Tribune remarked the wonderful turns of phrase in the novel about a family sprawling across the US-Mexico border and the sense of place, "You couldn't ask for a more vivid sense of place either, whether you're talking physical surroundings ("The funeral home had a fake Germanic facade and stood across the street from a taco shop, a gas station and a Starbucks") or the way people think and speak.[17] In an interview with Claire Kirch published in Publishers Weekly, Urrea said that "he has never before received so much prepub buzz as he has for The House of Broken Angels.[2] Kirch quoted him as saying that "It seems to be striking a nerve," he says. "I wasn't really trying to be subversive, but I was trying to be subversive at the same time. I'm always trying to, using literature, subvert people's responses."[2]



  • The Fever of Being. West End Press. 1994. ISBN 978-0-931122-78-1.
  • Ghost Sickness. Cinco Puntos Press. 1997. ISBN 978-0-938317-30-2.
  • Vatos. José Galvez, Josae Galvez (photog.). Cinco Puntos Press. 2000. ISBN 978-0-938317-52-4.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  • "Walking Backwards in the Dark". Virginia Quarterly Review. Spring 2007.
  • Tijuana Book of the Dead. Soft Skull Press. 2015. ISBN 978-1619024823

Short Stories






  1. ^ a b c d e f g González-T., César A. (1999). "Luis Alberto Urrea". In Lomeli, Francisco A.; Shirley, Carl R. (eds.). Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol 209. Chicano Writers: Third Series. Detroit: Gale, Literature Resource Center. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Kirch, Claire (February 23, 2018). "Luis Alberto Urrea Tells a Quintessential Mexican American Story". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved March 7, 2018.
  3. ^ "Luis Alberto Urrea". Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. Retrieved November 14, 2017.((cite web)): CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ "List of Winners, 1991-2007" (PDF). Colorado Book Award. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 3, 2016. Retrieved July 18, 2010.
  5. ^ Elam, Angela (2012). "Urrea, Luis Alberto". New Letters on the Air. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Luis Alberto Urrea". U.S. Embassy in Argentina. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  7. ^ "Luis Alberto Urrea". Lannan Foundation. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  8. ^ "BRLA 2004 Southwest Book Awards." Border Regional Library Association. 2008. Web. 26 July 2009.
  9. ^ "ONE BOOK CONTINUES WITH "THE DEVIL'S". Sacramento State. October 12, 2010. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  10. ^ Vreeland, Nico (April 29, 2010). "Edgar Wrap-Up: Batting .500". Chamber Four. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  11. ^ "Get ready to celebrate at the Tucson Festival of Books". Arizona Daily Star. 24 February 2019. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  12. ^ Rao, Mythili G. (December 23, 2011). "Queen Of America – By Luis Alberto Urrea – Book Review". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  13. ^ D'Erasmo, Stacey (July 3, 2005). "'The Hummingbird's Daughter': A Saint With Grit". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 9, 2017.
  14. ^ Omang, Joanne (June 5, 2005). "Child of Fortune". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
  15. ^ "Fiction Book Review: THE HUMMINGBIRD'S DAUGHTER by Luis Alberto Urrea, Author. Little, Brown $24.95 (512p) ISBN 978-0-316-74546-8". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved November 10, 2017.
  16. ^ Gross, Terry (5 March 2018). "Mexican-American Author Finds Inspiration In Family, Tragedy And Trump". NPR Fresh Air. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  17. ^ Upchurch, Michael (March 5, 2018). "Naperville's Luis Alberto Urrea returns with epic family drama in 'The House of Broken Angels'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
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Luis Alberto Urrea
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