Luis Alberto Urrea has been named the third recipient of the Paul Engle Prize, presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization.
The prize, established in 2011, honors an individual who, like Paul Engle, represents a pioneering spirit in the world of literature through writing, editing, publishing, or teaching, and whose active participation in the larger issues of the day has contributed to the betterment of the world through the literary arts.
Urrea will receive the prize, which includes a one-of-a-kind work of art and $10,000, during a special ceremony as part of the Iowa City Book Festival on Oct. 4. The event is at 1 p.m. in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber on the University of Iowa campus, and is free and open to the public.
He will appear throughout the Corridor during a three-day visit to the area, Oct. 2-4. He will visit West Liberty High School; read at New Bo Books at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct., 3, in Cedar Rapids; meet with high school and college students in Iowa City; and will participate on a free panel about immigration at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 2, at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts.
Urrea said the award comes as he wrestles with the idea of purpose in his work and how he should focus his intentions.
“Maintaining the work of witness in the face of ever shifting career developments and demands is a daunting task,” he said. “This award renews my commitment and vision; validation of this sort is so energizing and will impact my work for some time. The concept of a literature of witness – of bearing witness – has embedded in it the need for action. One must not simply hide in the shadows and type; one must also stand in the light.”
Urrea, a 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’s novels include The Hummingbird’s Daughter, its follow up, Queen of America, and the bestselling Into the Beautiful North, which imagines a small town in Mexico where all the men have immigrated to the U.S. A group of young women, after seeing the film The Magnificent Seven, decide to follow the men North and persuade them to return to their beloved village.
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, Ill., where he is a professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
The Paul Engle Prize is made possible through the generous support of the City of Coralville, which is home to 11 permanent sculptures with artistic and literary ties to Iowa. The sculptures all have ties to work found in The Iowa Writers’ Library, housed in the Coralville Marriott, which features about 800 books written by former students, graduates and faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Paul Engle (October 12, 1908 – March 22, 1991), though best remembered as the long-time director of the Writers’ Workshop and founder of the UI’s International Writing Program, also was a well-regarded poet, playwright, essayist, editor and critic. In addition to recognizing a writer, like Engle, makes an impact on his or her community and the world at large through efforts beyond the page, the award is designed to raise awareness about Engle and his works.
Previous winners of the prize are James Alan McPherson, a longtime instructor at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Elbow Room, and Kwame Dawes, a professor at Nebraska University, editor of the journal Prairie Schooner, and author of the recent poetry collection, Duppy Conqueror.