Novel featured in national reading program

Luis Alberto Urrea

Luis Urrea’s novel is one of three selected for The Big Read, a nationwide reading program. Photo: Al DiFranco/UIC Photo Services

Into the Beautiful North, a UIC professor’s novel about a young Mexican woman’s quest to save her village from the narcos, was selected for a national reading program by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The novel by Luis Alberto Urrea, distinguished professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 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 bestseller joins works by legendary writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck and Mark Twain.

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

Into the Beautiful North (Little, Brown and Company, 2009) portrays 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 her friends decide to follow the men north to Kankakee and persuade them to return to protect the village from bandits and narcotics traffickers.

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 experience of 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 novels, The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America, tell the story of Teresa Urrea, the unofficial Saint of Cabora and Mexico’s Joan of Arc.

Urrea’s books have been chosen by dozens of cities and colleges for One Book community reading programs.

Urrea, who joined the UIC faculty in 1999, teaches creative nonfiction, fiction and poetry workshops for graduate and undergraduate students.

With fellow Big Read author Jhumpa Lahiri, he will join Ira Silverberg, NEA literature director, for a webinar book discussion Nov. 13 at 3:30 p.m. CST.

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