NEA Selects UIC Professor’s Book for National Reading Program

The National Endowment for the Arts has selected a University of Illinois at Chicago writing professor’s novel for a prestigious national reading program.

“Into the Beautiful North,” by Luis Alberto Urrea, UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of English, is one of three new titles selected for The Big Read program in 2013-2014.

Through The Big Read, selected communities develop reading programs to celebrate one of 34 selections from U.S. and world literature. Urrea’s national best-seller joins an exclusive list of works by legendary writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck and Mark Twain.

Community-wide activities related to the book may include author readings, discussions, art exhibits, films, or live performances of music, dance or theatre. All are aimed at encouraging reading and participation by diverse audiences.

“Into the Beautiful North” (Little, Brown and Company, 2009) imagines a small town in Mexico where most of the men have immigrated to the U.S. After seeing the film “The Magnificent Seven,” a 19-year-old taco stand worker named Nayeli and a group of young women decide to follow the men north and persuade them to return to their village to protect it from banditos.

The novel earned a citation of excellence from the American Library Association Rainbow’s Project.

Urrea, a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, was born in Tijuana, Mexico to a Mexican father and an American mother. He has won numerous awards for his poetry, fiction and essays, some of which reflect his personal knowledge and experience of the U.S.-Mexico border culture.

“The Devil’s Highway,” Urrea’s 2004 nonfiction account of a group of Mexican immigrants lost in the Arizona desert, won the Lannan Literary Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Pacific Rim Kiriyama Prize.

His historical novel, “The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” tells the story of Teresa Urrea, the unofficial Saint of Cabora and Mexico’s Joan of Arc. The book, which involved 20 years of research and writing, won the Kiriyama Prize in fiction and, along with “The Devil’s Highway,” was named a best book of the year by many publications.

“The Devil’s Highway,” “The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” and “Into the Beautiful North” have been chosen by dozens of cities and colleges for One Book community reading programs.

Urrea came to UIC in 1999 and teaches creative non-fiction, fiction, and poetry workshops for graduate and undergraduate students.

Urrea and fellow Big Read author Jhumpa Lahiri will join Ira Silverberg, NEA literature director, for a webinar book discussion Nov. 13 at 3:30 p.m. CST. For further details visit

Organizations selected to participate in The Big Read receive funding, access to training resources and opportunities, and educational and promotional materials to support community involvement. More than 1,000 grants have been awarded to U.S. communities since the program’s 2007 national launch.

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