People are hungry for connections. They can read Luis Urrea’s books, and do, but the chance to meet him, laugh with him, and hear him recite passages from his books (from memory, by the way), that’s magic.
And one thing people really want, Luis posed at Wednesday night’s Printers Row Live event at the Tribune Tower, is a connection to magic and the human soul.
“People are starving” for that, he said.
I think a random sampling of conversations with audience members bears him out. See what you think:
Mary Ann LaBelle of Chicago (and sometimes Detroit) says she likes local authors.
“Wherever I go, I like to read local authors,” she said. “Whenever I can, I meet them.”
Literary Editor Liz Taylor, who meets a lot of writers and interviewed Urrea Wednesday night, wrote recently about Luis and some of the things that make him special as an author. His writing is descriptive, touching and -- I suspect -- familiar to anyone who’s ever felt baffled by differences between people.
Luis is genuinely interested in the people he meets. He believes in bridges instead of walls, and the people who meet him are charmed.
For instance, Urrea visited Kankakee and used it as a setting in his book “Into the Beautiful North.” Likewise, one of the people he met there became a character in the novel.
Among the readers at the Tribune on Wednesday night was Don Green, the mayor of Kankakee from 1993 to 2009. (Urrea had spoken at the Kankakee Public Library when it recently expanded.) The former mayor’s wife Kay Green was also there Wednesday, as was her friend Rosemary Pistorius and her husband Chris Bohlen.
“There’s a real relationship,” Green said of Kankakee and Urrea. The author called out “Mayor Green” twice as he talked with Liz onstage.
Luis is Mexican-American and very involved in the community. Lives in Naperville and teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago -- English 462: Topics in American Non-Fiction.
Two of his students were in the audience.
Isabel Gonzalez of Chicago had him as a teacher in the past, and convinced her younger sister Marialuisa Gonzalez to take his class. She started the class Tuesday. Wednesday night, she and her sister were watching him laugh and wonder at the connections and distances between people.
“That’s what he’s like in class all the time,” said Marialuisa. “His storytelling. He makes people come alive.”
In line for the book-signing afterward was Queion Swift, a junior at Jones Metropolitan High School. Urrea’s “Devil’s Highway” is one of the books read in Mr. Saldivar’s Latino literature class.
“It’s kind of like I’ve met him before,” Queion said as he got closer to Urrea.
And tell me whether you felt a deeper connection to your book after meeting Luis.
-- James Janega
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