Ever since leaving your fine city and your excellent Reading Together program events, my wife and I have been talking about you. To each other. To bookstores. To other writers. We hold you up as a model to other all-city read programs. No question Kalamazoo does it right.
It's a rare and wonderful thing for an author to share his work with such a cross-section of a community as I did with Kalamazoo. To be able to meet with readers is always grand, but to be welcomed as a friend by so many, across such different platforms was an incredible experience. I know you appreciate the amazing work of your librarians and the Reading Together committee that made it all possible because you were so warm and responsive. We never ran out of things to talk about! I was only disappointed to not be able to attend ALL the events.
I was especially touched by the artwork done by the high school students and showcased in your spectacular library. I will be posting pictures of some of that work. As an artist, to inspire other artists is a dream come true. It also meant so much to me to have the support of my friend (and your own literary heroine) Bonnie Jo Campbell. A special thanks to you for inviting her to be involved with your program. That shows a great literary commitment all the way through your community.
I was especially heartened by the fact that you forged a bond with Kankakee, IL. I think the the future is being written by towns like Kankakee and Kalamazoo and I am so honored that my novel could play a part.
On a personal note, I just have to say that your librarians and staff people were spectacular. I enjoyed every minute of your company. I deeply appreciated your generosity and I have to say doing an event in front of a few hundred kindergartners was probably the coolest tour experience of the last year!
Thank you to Karen Santamaria and everyone on the Reading Together committee. Thank you for selecting my novel Into the Beautiful North, thank you for reading, and most of all, thank you for your friendship and support. Hope to see you again soon!
Luis Alberto Urrea
P.S. Oh yeah, best donuts we ever had, too!
Luis Alberto Urrea at Kalamazoo Public Library
One of the things that amazes me about Into the Beautiful North, that I really only paid a lot of attention to on my third reading of the book, is the wonderful, philosophical one-liners that are sprinkled throughout the book. They’re so easy to miss, so I thought I would note a few of them here, just in case others missed them. The page number that follows is the page number in the paperback version of the book.
Here they come:
- Mostly they did what Mexicans in every small town in Mexico did: they circled their own history (15).
- (Of Yolo’s brother, Tlacloc) he changed the name to Lalo before he went north with his father to become nameless (20).
- (On immigration into Mexico) “Go back where you came from!” Irma bellowed, “Mexico is for Mexicans” (36).
- “The Americans are kind. Friendly people. Generous people. They have quaint customs—they aren’t really, shall we say, sophisticated like we are. You can’t drink the water—it will give you diarrhea” (62)
- (The tweakers) never made it all the way to the top, so they never saw the view (from the garbage heap (124).
- What made them different from her? She could not tell (155).
- Nayeli wanted what they (Americans) had, but she did not know what that was (169).
- (Nayeli) could not comprehend where she’d been, what she’d seen, who she’d met, or what she’d lost (259).
- “This is Kankakee, morra! They like Mexicans here (317).
- “Our town has seen some hard times. But it’s a wonderful place. We’re bringing it back.” (Of Kankakee, 321).
There are many more, but these particularly struck me because of the universality of them all. The last two, in particular, I hope people can say more readily about Kalamazoo following our Reading Together experience this year.
Another thing I found in the “joining unlike groups of people together” is the mention that Arnold Davis, border patrol, wants to escape, as does Matt, the former missionary. We are all so much more alike than different! If you talk with someone not like you who has read the book, you’ll probably discover the same thing—we’re all so much alike and our differences are very interesting.
~ Sherry Ransford-Ramsdell, Reading Together Steering Committee
Into the Beautiful North
Reading about an author or artist is one sure way to gain insight into that person’s creative process, but hearing authors tell about their work in their own words often seems to add a new dimension to our understanding. With that in mind I headed out for a dog hike yesterday and quickly grabbed a couple of podcasts to listen to along the way. I was interested to learn more about Reading Together author Luis Alberto Urrea; here’s some of what I what I found.
One standout was an interesting interview with Urrea from January 2011 that was posted by the National Endowment for the Arts on its blog called “Art Works.” Interestingly, Urrea talks about getting to know the town of Kankakee, Illinois, (important in Into the Beautiful North) and his discovery of the public library there.
According to Urrea, the Kankakee Public Library had become the cultural centerpiece of a citywide revitalization project. “They made the library a highly computerized, safe open-late-at-night haven for kids go to, free of gang violence,” says Urrea. “It was an amazing turnaround of a town who figured it out on their own.” (The story, it seems, is not at all unlike the recent revitalization of downtown Kalamazoo, where our own world class library is a community centerpiece.) “This new public library has become the cultural hub of the city,” Urrea later wrote in the New York Times, “crucial to its downtown revitalization.”
It’s an interesting story; give it a listen. You can download a copy for yourself and/or read a transcript on the Art Works blog.
Art Works Podcast: Discovering Kankakee
Next time, I’ll share more findings about Into the Beautiful North; including a recent podcast recorded last November that includes some discussion with Urrea about his upcoming visit to Kalamazoo on March 6th. Stay tuned.
Art Works Podcast: Discovering Kankakee