Categories:  Faculty

UIC professor, author named finalist for top literary award

Luis Alberto Urrea, professor of English and distinguished professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Photo: BravaLux/Joe Mazza

Luis Alberto Urrea, professor of English and distinguished professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Photo: BravaLux/Joe Mazza

Luis Alberto Urrea, professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is one of five finalists for the 2016 PEN/Faulkner award, the largest peer-juried prize for fiction.

Urrea, UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences distinguished professor, was nominated for his book “The Water Museum,” which was selected by a panel of three judges who considered approximately 500 novels and short story collections by American authors published in the U.S. during 2015.

“The Water Museum” is a collection of U.S. West- and Southwest-based short stories that, like some of his other best-selling works, reflect Urrea’s personal knowledge and experience of the U.S.-Mexico border culture. It was named among the best fiction books of 2015 by National Public Radio and Kirkus Reviews.

National Public Radio’s Michael Schaub calls him “compassionate but hard-edged, a kind of literary badass who still believes in loveā€¦ ‘The Water Museum’ is a brilliant, powerful collection, and Luis Alberto Urrea is a master storyteller.”

The other PEN/Faulkner nominees are James Hannaham for “Delicious Foods,” Julie Iromuanya for “Mr. and Mrs. Doctor,” Viet Thanh Nguyen for “The Sympathizer,” and Elizabeth Tallent for “Mendocino Fire.”

The winner, to be announced April 5, will receive $15,000, and the other four finalists will receive $5,000 each. All five authors will be honored May 14 during the 36th annual PEN/Faulkner Award ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Urrea, a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, was born in Tijuana, Mexico to a Mexican father and an American mother. The best-selling author has won numerous awards for his poetry, nonfiction, fiction and essays.

“The Devil’s Highway,” Urrea’s 2004 nonfiction 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.

His novels, “The Hummingbird’s Daughter” and “Queen of America,” tell the story of Teresa Urrea, the unofficial Saint of Cabora and Mexico’s Joan of Arc. The former book won the Kiriyama Prize in fiction and, along with “The Devil’s Highway,” was named a best book of the year by many publications.

“Into the Beautiful North,” “The Devil’s Highway” and “The Hummingbird’s Daughter” have been collectively chosen for more than 30 national, local and collegiate One Book community reading programs.

Urrea, a resident of Naperville, Illinois, came to UIC in 1999 and teaches creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry workshops for graduate and undergraduate students.