Cirque du Sound

Meet Luis Alberto Urrea

Luis Alberto Urrea is an award-winning Mexican-American author and journalist, and a guest on the brand-new podcast Cirque du Sound.

Getting to Know Our Guest

Could you please introduce yourself in a few words.

I am Luis Alberto Urrea and I am an author, a speaker, a university professor, activist, husband, dad and grandpa. I was born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and an American mother. It has made me feel like a citizen of the world and set my agenda in my writing career.

If you had to pick your favorite Cirque du Soleil show, which one would it be?

I LOVED Kurios. The illusions were amazing, the music had to be downloaded, the overall talent next level. The steampunk ethos caught me in all the right places. That show was a wonder. I am also a great fan of Luzia because it captured my Mexican soul and expressed the emotions and wonder I feel every time I go back there.


Getting Started as a Writer

Can you tell us a bit about what sparked your interest in writing and what motivated you to pursue this creative avenue?

I was saved by story, no other way to explain this. I was rescued as a child from dire straits by books. How fortunate to be in a family that worshipped books. And, though we had little money, my mother knew the priceless value of a library card. I did not believe that someone from my station in life and cultural roots would ever be an author. But when that muse touches you, you can’t help but practice what you love. Such shamans as Leonard Cohen and Ursula K. LeGuin set fire to my love of words. When you surround yourself with magicians like that, you can’t help but want to learn – and practice  the magic yourself.

Your works often blend various cultural and literary influences. Could you discuss how your dual heritage has shaped your creative style?

I don’t believe any of us come from hermetically sealed culture. My personal heritage is made up of my mother’s English roots in early America with a strand of Hungarian and my father’s Mexican side that includes a strong dose of Irish and Basque migrants and Indigenous Mexican culture. All of this was present in our small apartment – which was in a blue-collar barrio, itself a mix of various migrant cultures. All of these strands – including the music I listened to and the books I read – make up my ethnicity as well as my creative impulses. Because I was always listening and paying attention, I could not help but be influenced by all the colors and cultures surrounding me in glorious explosions of creativity.


Getting Philosophical

Your writing is known for its vivid descriptions and emotional resonance. How do you approach the task of evoking sensory experiences and deep emotions in your readers?

I need to establish an emotional intimacy with my readers to have any hope of connection. That means I have to be vulnerable and as honest and open as possible. I often tell my writing students that they need to fill their pens with love or don’t bother picking them up. No pretention allowed because pretention is sheer ego and ego leaves no room for art. It’s about love. I believe that every time I scribble in a notebook.

Well-written characters often grapple with moral dilemmas and ethical choices. How do you approach creating multi-dimensional characters who face these challenges authentically?

Ursula K. LeGuin once told me: “Writers are the raw nerve of the universe. They need us to go feel things and then come back and remind them what it means to be human.” In a real way, it is an alchemy of translation: my goal is always to remind my readers of their humanity – and more importantly to embrace the humanity of the other.


Parting Words

What do you hope your legacy will be in terms of the emotions and ideas your work has conveyed?

There is no them, there is only us. That has been my mantra always.


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