Bestselling author kicks off September Big Read event at UA Little Rock

Luis Urrea

An award-winning author hailed by NPR as a “master storyteller with a rock and roll heart” will discuss his celebrated novel at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock this month.

The reading, titled “Into the Beautiful North: With the Author Luis Alberto Urrea,” will be held at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, in the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall in the UA Little Rock Fine Arts Building. The event is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

UA Little Rock is joined by several community partners as it launches its Big Read celebration with the reading and book discussion. Urrea’s book, “Into the Beautiful North,” has been selected as the focus of the Big Read program.

Urrea delivers an “artfully crafted story of bridging borders between Mexico and the United States,” according to his publicist. The main character, 19-year-old Nayeli, lives in a village, Tres Camarones (three shrimp). She and her friends — inspired by the film, “The Magnificent Seven” — journey to the U.S. to bring back her father and six other men to defend the village.

Critics have also described the book as a “wonderful comic satire,” one filled with great characters and subject matter that “keeps a smile on your face.”

Urrea, a member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, has written numerous works of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Raised in Tijuana and San Diego by a Mexican father and American mother, Urrea says he inherited a love of storytelling from his extended family on both sides of the border.

The same week, the New York City-based musical trio 9 Horses will perform a concert with music inspired by the novel. Nine Horses offers “the virtuosity of classical music together with the immediacy of jazz and folk music in a concert that is an interactive, accessible, and fun experience for all ages,” according to their website.

Their performance will be from 6 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, also in the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall.

Little Rock is among 75 communities nationwide participating in the NEA Big Read from September 2017 to June 2018. An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book.

The NEA Big Read is presented in partnership with The Mexican Consulate, Little Rock School District, El Zocalo Immigrant Resource Center, The Clinton Center, Central Arkansas Library System, and UA-Pulaski Technical College.

Contributors for the kickoff event include the UA Little Rock William G. Cooper Jr. Honors Program in English, Arkansas Humanities Council, and UA Little Rock’s Ottenheimer Library, Division of Student Affairs, World Languages Department, Donaghey Scholars Program, History Department, Anthropology/Sociology Department, as well as KLRE/KUAR.

The entire NEA Big Read will run from Tuesday, Sept. 19, to Friday, Nov. 3, and feature presentations, book discussions, film screenings, and related arts programming.

View a calendar of events for the NEA Big Read at For more information, contact Carol Macheak at or 501.569.8809.

The photo of author Luis Alberto Urrea was taken by Joe Mazza.

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