Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Luis Alberto Urrea Addresses Tucson Ban of Books

They Don't Gotta Burn a Book/They Just Remove Them
Just before the 30 minute mark, Bill Moyer asks Luis Alberto Urrea about the removal of his books from Ethnic Studies classes. Urrea responds that he initially thought it was a joke when he was first informed about the ban, and then he came to understand that the ban was a removal of "books from brown hands."

In the Moyer interview, Urrea goes on to say, "It's not about books. It's about ethnicity. It's about power in Phoenix."
When Urrea spoke at the UA at the '11 Tucson Festival of Books, I had the chance to see him and wrote a bit about that I draw from below:

On  Friday, March 11th 2011, Marissa Juarez, Aja Martinez and I attended a reading by Luis Alberto Urrea (, organized by Kathryn Ortiz. Urrea, author of Into the Beautiful North, The Devil's Highway and The Hummingbird's Daughter, spoke as a part of the UA Reads Program (, which Kathryn Ortiz coordinates as a Graduate Assistant for the University of Arizona’s campus bookstore. 

Born in Tijuana, Mexico, Urrea explained a lot of his fiction has been heavily influenced by friends, family and colleagues. While working in the Tijuana dump, Urrea came into contact with humble characters whose lives taught Urrea about genuine community. While he was looking for a job away from the dump, Urrea wrote a letter to a former writing instructor, asking if he could help him find a job as a janitor. The writing instructor responded with an opportunity to teach writing.

Urrea said that he always entered into the writing process with the strategy of demonstrating his love for his characters. However, he remains critical of nationalist messages he hears traveling in Mexico about Honduran immigrants. Listening to talk radio in Mexico, Urrea criticized those who spread anti-immigrant rhetoric like Spanish-speaking versions of Bill O’Reily.


Urrea also spoke of his own connection with Tucson, living off minute rice and hot sauce at the time he met his wife. She interviewed him while reporting for a local paper. Offering advice to writers, Urrea recommended using librarians as the heroes because every librarian will order the book. Similarly, Urrea made the point that more writers should have female heroes because there are already endless numbers of male heroes “from Beowolf to Mad Max.”


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