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Luis Alberto Urrea was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his 2004 book <em>The Devil's Highway: A True Story,</em> about a group of Mexican men who cross the border into the United States.

Arts and Culture

Acclaimed Mexican author Luis Alberto Urrea leads Latino artists and writers in ‘Big Read’

Eastern CT State University (ECSU) in Willimantic, is one of 84 communities in the United States to receive an NEA grant, in partnership with Arts Midwest to host Big Read.

This grant will allow  ECSU to present a variety of important cultural programs to the students and the surrounding community. The programs are open to the general public via Zoom.

ECSU has distinguished itself as a beacon in integrating the community with its cultural programs, many of them featuring diverse artists. The mission of the BIG READ is to selects a book for communities across America to read and engage. 

book cover

This year’s book is “Into the Beautiful North” by noted Mexican American author Luis Alberto Urrea. Eastern’s First Year Program has incorporated the book as required reading in the First Year Introduction seminar for all incoming freshmen. Students, faculty and staff across the university will engage with this timely novel and participate in campus-wide discussions, guest lectures, films and other programming related to the book.

In “Into the Beautiful North,” Urrea tells the story of an idealistic 19-year-old woman who is inspired by the film “The Magnificent Seven” to travel from her home in Mexico to the United States. Her goal is to convince a bunch of men who left her town to return and help protect it from drug dealers.

Some of the programs will be virtual and all are open to the public.

On Oct. 7, at 3 p.m., on Zoom:’s Bessy Reyna, cultural critic, poet laureate for the Town of Bolton, will be reading her work answering general questions and have an informal conversation with the participants. For more information about Reyna, visit  and

On Oct. 8, at 3 p.m. on Zoom, David Antonio Cruz, a multidisciplinary artist and professor of painting and drawing at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, will discuss his work.visit

Oct. 8 at 4 p.m. opening exhibition in the Art Gallery of “The Future is Latinx,” which features 20 critically engaged artists who challenge the marginalized position of being foreigners in their own land. 

Saturdays in October (Oct. 3, 10, 17, 23 and 31), In New London, Eastern alumna Migdalia Salas, vice president of the Hispanic Alliance of Southeastern Connecticut, and educator and activist Mirna Martinez will lead a series of Zoom meetings titled “Mis Historias,” with immigrant Latinx students from New London High School reading Urrea’s book “Into the Beautiful North.” The students will engage in conversations and writing about their journeys and choose works from the exhibit to write about.

On Oct. 13, at 11 a.m., Christine Garcia, assistant professor of English, will moderate a Zoom panel discussion in the Art Gallery featuring Robyn Greenly, professor of art history at the University of Connecticut, and Kerry Doyle, director and chief curator of the Rubin Center for the Visual Arts at the University of Texas at El Paso. The panel will discuss a large-scale, site-specific, participatory installation by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, titled “Border Tuner” (2019), which has connected the cities of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua using powerful searchlights and live sound channels across the United States-Mexico border. Video documentation of Border Tuner will be presented as part of “The Future is Latinx.”

On Oct. 13, at 12:30 p.m., Martin Espada, will read a selection of recent his poetry. This year, Espada re-published 40 of his poems published previously by Curbstone Press, under the title “Poetry Like Bread.”

On Oct. 14, at 3 p.m. in the Art Gallery, Luis Alberto Urrea, celebrated author of “Into the Beautiful North,” will speak through Zoom about his prolific writing career. Urrea has published 14 books. He will share what it means when more than 100 cities and colleges have chosen his books for a community reading. For more information, visit

On Oct. 15, at 6 p.m., the Willimantic Public Library will host a teen book discussion. The library will also host adult programs on the themes of Urrea’s book at 11 a.m. on Oct. 20 and at 6 p.m. on Oct. 22.

On Oct. 21, at 3 p.m., Eastern will lead a community conversation with elected officials, DACA students and community stakeholders. The program will conclude with a musical performance by Eastern voice faculty and students, who wrote original music compositions to the poems of Latinx writers.

A mural project created on the CLICK Community Kitchen in Willimantic designed and painted by residents of Windham/Willimantic, under the guidance of Nicaraguan artist Alejandro de la Guerra will be unveiled as part of the programs. 

On Nov. 10, at 3 p.m., Christine Garcia, assistant professor of English, will moderate a panel discussion featuring artists Esteban Ramon Perez and Felipe Baeza. Perez and Baeza will discuss the multiplicity of Latinx and Chicano identity politics manifested in their artwork. 

Other events and discussions, with dates and times to be announced, as they are scheduled.

For more information on the Big Read Program, and Zoom links to each of them please visit or contact Art Gallery Coordinator Yulia Tikhonova at or call (860) 465.4625. 

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