When Jacqueline Camacho-Ruiz was asked to interview the author of "Into the Beautiful North" for the Spanish-language presentation of "An Evening with Luis Alberto Urrea" coming up Wednesday, Oct. 23, she said she felt honored.
As she looked more closely into the author and his novel, she realized she would be talking about a story that mirrored elements of her own life.
Camacho-Ruiz is the author of "The Fig Factor," her deeply intimate memoir that begins in her homeland of Mexico.
"For me, when I was asked to do the interview for the Aurora Public Library, I was so honored because Mr. Urrea is part Hispanic, number one, but also because this girl Nayeli, from the book, reminds me a lot of myself as I came to the States when I was 14 years old. I told my parents, 'We've got to go to the Beautiful North.' I didn't actually say, 'The Beautiful North,' but that was how I felt."
The protagonist in the story, 19-year-old Nayeli, works at a taco shop in her Mexican village. She dreams of reuniting with her father, who journeyed to the United States to find work and never returned.
"The main character in this novel reminds me so much about me and my journey," Camacho-Ruiz said. "Not the specific scenarios, but just coming to a new country and embracing it and being wowed and being so amazed by the beauty of this amazing country."
Becky Spratford, a librarian at the Berwyn Public Library, an author in her own right and a nationally known speaker, will lead the English-language presentation featuring Urrea on Thursday, Oct. 24.
Both the Spanish and English programs will be conducted from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Copley Theatre, 8 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora. The programs are one component of Fox Valley Reads 2013. (Go to foxvalleyreads.org for information on more programs set around Urrea's novel, "Into the Beautiful North.")
Spratford said both she and Camacho-Ruiz will ask the same questions of Urrea during the interviews.
"I do a conversational style of interview," Spratford said. "I have spent over an hour on the phone with Mr. Urrea, and I have to say, people are in for such a treat. It's not shocking that he tells a wonderful story. But some authors are much better on the page. He is just a magnificent storyteller who has you feeling the full range of emotions."
Spratford and Camacho-Ruiz are putting their heads together to come up with questions that will encourage Urrea to tell stories.
"I never had read his stuff, but now I don't want to stop reading it," Spratford said. "And I would say that even if someone didn't read the book, that person should still come. He's a captivating storyteller. I can't promise we won't ruin the book if someone hasn't read it, but we won't be asking book discussion-type questions. We will be letting him talk about his process and his feelings and his life as a writer."
Urrea, of Naperville, has written 13 books encompassing fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Three titles, "Into the Beautiful North," "The Devil's Highway" and "The Hummingbird's Daughter" have been chosen by more than 30 cities and colleges for "One Book" community read programs.
"It is great to have this local author whose book, 'The Devil's Highway,' was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction," Spratford said. "And 'The Beautiful North" was picked up by the National Endowment for the Arts to be one of the Big Read books. He is definitely an author on the upswing.
"I feel like he's so ahead of the curve," Spratford continued. "He is multi-ethnic; American and Mexican. His stories resonate with 20th Century Americans. It's amazing how right he gets things. The reason his books are so popular is that he has hit on a pulse that everyone relates to."
Urrea certainly has hit on a pulse with Camacho-Ruiz. "For me, I have a very large connection with both the author, who is part Hispanic, and the stories he shares," she said. "I can completely identify with the stories of both Mexico and the United States, and his characters."
Urrea also will visit East Aurora High School and give a presentation there.
Fox Valley Reads 2013 was made possible in part by a $15,000 Big Reads Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Big Read provides communities nationwide with the opportunity to read, discuss and celebrate one of 30 selections from U.S. and world literature.
Fox Valley Reads is a partnership among Aurora Public Library, Oswego Public Library, Messenger Public Library of North Aurora, Big Rock Library and Sugar Grove Public Library.