Reading Together 2012 Blog
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
When I came to Kalamazoo twelve years ago, I knew it was a special place. We are lucky to have so many arts organizations, cultural events, and an award-winning public library that sponsors Reading Together! We are even luckier that this year’s Reading Together author, Luis Urrea, visits Kalamazoo next week.
Urrea will speak on Tuesday, March 6, at 7 pm in the Kalamazoo Central High School Auditorium. This is a free event, and all are invited to hear Urrea speak about Into the Beautiful North, writing, and being “dual culture.” Come listen to the music of local Tex-Mex band Los Bandits de Michigan and even have a book signed by the author!
You will also have a chance to meet Urrea on Wednesday, March 7 at noon in Kalamazoo College’s Light Fine Arts Building Recital Hall. Urrea will be working with a Kalamazoo College class, talking about the craft of writing, and exploring issues of crossing borders. He will also address the recent “Librotraficante” movement and the banning of his books from the Tucson, Arizona Unified School District. This event is free, open to the public, and snacks will be provided after the class.
Urrea’s visit is timely. With the controversy over prohibiting ethnic studies in Arizona (HB 2281), Urrea can give us a “banned author’s” perspective on the issue. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to interact with the author, ask questions, and explore border crossings of your own.
~Dr. Stacy Nowicki, Library Director, Kalamazoo College Library
Luis Alberto Urrea
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
Have you noticed the great lineup of Reading Together programs for this year? I’m looking forward to “Kankakee to Kalamazoo.” Since moving to Kalamazoo, I’ve been intrigued by other places with unique names beginning with “Ka.” I always thought it would be fun to plan a road trip, from one “Ka” place to the next. We could start not too far away in Kalkaska, MI, pass by Kalamazoo, visit Kankakee and end up in Kalispell, MT, right near Glacier National Park.
Imagine my surprise, then, to learn that Kankakee is a primary destination for main character Nayeli, as she road trips Into the Beautiful North. She learns a lot on her long journey, even if some things she might rather not have discovered. Often when we travel, we learn so much from the people and places we encounter along the way. One could say the same about reading a well-written novel!
This April we have the chance to discover more about Kankakee directly from its residents, without ever leaving our dear town.
Into the Beautiful North
I just finished reading Queen of America, Urrea’s new book and the sequel to The Hummingbird’s Daughter which Eleanore wrote about last week.
I didn’t read them in order. Actually I’m still on the waiting list for Hummingbird’s Daughter, but I certainly understood and appreciated Queen of America. It didn’t feel as if I was starting in the middle of a story.
Queen of America continues the story of Teresita Urrea, the “Saint of Cabora” when she is forced to flee with her father from Mexico to Arizona. Even there she is claimed as the spiritual leader of the Mexican Revolution and pilgrims and assassins follow her to America. She then leaves the southwest for a journey across the country: New York, San Francisco, St Louis, among other cities. Along the way, she must decide if a saint can fall in love.
I knew these two books were based on Urrea’s family history, his great aunt, I believe, but I didn’t know the details. After reading it, I went to his website to understand the family history that is the basis for the story. In retrospect, I wish I had understood just how much of this account was true before reading the book.
I’ve now read several of Urrea’s books. They are different from each other in many ways, but all are well-written and compelling. I’m looking forward to his visit in March.
Queen of America
Once you've journeyed Into the Beautiful North with Nayeli and her friends, you may want to return to the warmth and culture of Mexico with another story featuring a strong female hero. You will find all you search for in The Hummingbird's Daughter, Luis Alberto Urrea's 2005 novelization of his great-aunt Teresita's coming of age. Teresita, who was renowned for her healing powers, was considered a saint by many.
The novel has elements of fairy tale, travelogue, western, magical realism, folklore, and explores issues of gender, class, faith, race, nationality, marriage, education, patriotism, and power This book will make you laugh and cry, and savor Urrea's lyrical, imaginative prose. When finished with this book, continue the adventure with Urrea's latest novel, a sequel titled Queen of America.
At the writing of this blog post, we only have one copy of The Hummingbird's Daughter in our catalog, but more are on the way! Place a hold to be on the list for when these additional copies arrive.
The Hummingbird's Daughter
“Suddenly there was no work. All the shrimp were shipped north, tortillas became too expensive to eat, and people started to go hungry. We told you change was bad, the old-timers croaked.
Nobody had heard of the term immigration. Migration, to them, was when the tuna and the whales cruised up the coast, or when Guacamaya parrots flew up from the south. Traditionalists voted to revoke electricity, but it was far too late for that. No woman in town would give up her refrigerator, her electric fan, or her electric iron. So the men started to go to el norte. Nobody knew what to say. Nobody knew what to do. The modern era had somehow passed Tres Camarones by, but this new storm had found a way to siphon its men away. out of their beds and into the next century, into a land far away.” —Into the Beautiful North
This passage from the opening pages of Luis Urrea's Into the Beautiful North paints a picture of a Mexican village not unlike one we might read about in today's news. And for the fictitious Tres Camarones, there is the added presence of drug bandits who are threatening to take over the village with corruption, violence and greed; also sadly true to life. This is the setting from which Nayeli, a 19-year old girl, born and raised in Tres Camarones, sets out in search of her father and other men who will come back home to repopulate and defend their village.
And for the next three months, this will become our story as well.
A dedicated group of volunteers has helped Kalamazoo Public Library plan an exciting and meaningful lineup of Reading Together events that center on three far-reaching themes: The Book as Literature, The Culture of Mexico, and Immigration. After reading the book, we believe participating in these programs will provide several ways to process and reflect.
Today we bring you the enhanced Reading Together website, complete with a full calendar of events, additional resources, and more information about those who have contributed to this planning process. We welcome your reactions and your feedback, and we invite you to come back often.