Luis Alberto Urrea

Some characters are simply to good to be true. The Pollyannas of literature. Melanie Wilkes. Pip. Forrest Gump. Sweet, kind, generous. We think of these characters as literary saints. They believe in the inherent goodness of people and can’t understand why others don’t. There’s another kind of literary saint, the ones with flaws. Ivanhoe, Atticus Finch, Jo March. There are the saints whose deep convictions are met with adversity and yet the remain true to their calling. These and others of similar cut are the literary saints we’ll be discussing this week in #litchat.

Joining us on Friday, December 16th, for his second visit to #litchat , is Luis Alberto Urrea, whose sequel to his award-winning novel The Hummingbird’s Daughter was published this month. Queen of America follows Teresita, the young Mexican woman called the Saint of Cabora, whose ability to heal the sick spread throughout Mexico near the turn of the 20th century and whose passion for freedom inspired the native peoples of Mexico to fight against the corrupt government. Queen of America opens where the The Hummingbird’s Daughter ends. Teresita and her father have fled Mexico with government assassins on their tail. It doesn’t take long for word to spread to the sick, wounded, and hopeless around their new situation in Arizona that Teresita, the Saint of Cabora, has not lost her gifts.

Urrea writes with Dickensian humor and a scope for history like Tolstoy, bringing the late 1800s to life from the border towns of the Southwest and the Indian uprisings on both sides of the border; to a San Francisco still rushed with gold, and into the parlors of New York society. Everywhere she goes, Teresita is followed by pilgrims seeking her touch, a phenomenon that both nourishes and depletes her. Among the powerful threads running throughout Queen of America is Teresita’s conflicted passion for romance and beauty against her calling as a healer. These flaws bring pain as Urrea takes readers through Teresita’s brief marriage to a violent psychopath and her later association with people bent on exploiting her gifts. Urrea paints all of this with the brush of a poet, combining the facts of Teresita’s life with the essence of her life’s work.

Luis Alberto Urrea, 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, is a prolific and acclaimed writer who uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss and triumph. Born in Tijuana, Mexico to a Mexican father and an American mother, Urrea has published extensively in all the major genres. The critically acclaimed and best-selling author of 13 books, Urrea has won numerous awards for his poetry, fiction and essays. The Devil’s Highway, his 2004 non-fiction 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.

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. After serving as a relief worker in Tijuana and a film extra and columnist-editor-cartoonist for several publications, Urrea moved to Boston where he taught expository writing and fiction workshops at Harvard. 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-Lafayette. Urrea lives with his family in Naperville, IL, where he is a professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Follow Luis Alberto Urrea on Twitter: @urrealism.