Pulitzer Prize finalist Luis Alberto Urrea discussed his latest collection of short stories, “The Water Museum,” at a Texas Book Festival panel at Central Presbyterian Church on Saturday.
Urrea, who is also the author of “The Devil’s Highway” and “The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” was joined by moderator and Austin-based author Antonio Ruiz-Camacho who wrote “Barefoot Dogs” earlier this year.
Urrea says that in his principal story “The Water Museum,” he pays homage to a Ray Bradbury style of science fiction writing. Set in the future, the story follows children in the Texas Panhandle who have never seen rain before. “It’s about all these things that we love and take for granted,” he says.
In the story “Amapola,” he turned to the genre that he enjoys reading the most for pleasure — mystery. In 2010, the mystery short story won the Edgar Award, and Urrea says that at the awards ceremony he was “losing my mind because I was going to meet all of my heroes.”
Urrea, who was born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother, says the book highlights both sides of his identity.
Growing up, Urrea says he often felt like the kitchen in his home was like being in New York City, while in his living room, “Éramos Mexicanos (We were Mexican), and listened to Pedro Infante and watched bullfights,” he says.
His father worried about him becoming too Americanized. He describes his mother as a proper lady who wore gloves and affectionately called him, “Dear Boy” while living in the barrio in Tijuana. “But mom won because she had books,” Urrea says.
He remembers her reading Charles Dickens to him and feeling transported to another world. “It was really beautiful,” he says. “Then, she busted out Mark Twain, and that was the magic.”
As Urrea moved farther from the border, he discovered how many people had negative views about Mexicans. “I was shocked to learn that (some people thought) that the people who I loved most in the world were trash.”
Writing and telling the stories of the Latino community became important to him. “I’m in love with Mexico and the United States equally,” he says.