Posted by: Viola | May 30, 2016

Meeting Luis Alberto Urrea at SummerWords 2016

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The SummerWords 2016 creative writing festival came to a close today, Sunday May 29th. And the festival was filled with magical moments! Far too many to count! SummerWords! As always, it was a great weekend of tons of workshops, wonderful panels/discussions and presenters, and to magnify the wonder of it all, the keynote speaker was author Luis Alberto Urrea. His keynote address was on Saturday evening, just before the gathering of all participants for the second annual barbecue dinner. He introduced himself by sharing a little about his childhood, through stories about him and his family. Then he shared a short story with us, from his award-winning short story collection THE WATER MUSEUM.

Luis Alberto Urrea. This guy is incredible!!! I think what was most amazing about the whole evening of his keynote presentation was the magical nature of his storytelling. His ability to tell story after story after story, without pause (it seemed), was mesmerizing. I’ve never seen anything quite like this–not sure what word to use–skill or gift or talent. I was blown away. Suffice it to say, I was in love with this amazing storyteller and his endless stories. I wanted more stories, and it was a sad moment when the keynote session came to a close.

When I say storytelling talent or gift, and when I call it magical, I am not exaggerating. When it came time for him to share his short story reading with us, he did not whip out a copy of his book or a stack of papers. He did not read from any prompter. He said he wanted to share his short story with us, and out of respect for us, he was not going to read it to us, he was simply going to recite/tell the story. And then he began.

I am not sure how a person writes a short story and shares it out loud, from memory. I was stunned. I am sure my jaw dropped at the beginning of the story and did not return to it’s usual locked position until the entire day came to an end. I still feel baffled. Still shaking my head. But how? Yes, he wrote the story. Yes, he knows it and its characters and plot. He knows it all, very intimately. But still, it is a lot of work to remember and to recite a full short story, even if not verbatim. Wow. Wow. Wow. ❤

I am so glad I got to be present at this wonderful event. And I am also glad and grateful for earlier in the day, when one of the organizers of the event (my mentor, Professor Michael Spurgeon) called me aside and introduced me to Luis Alberto Urrea and Luis’ wife, Cindy. I didn’t quite realize what was happening and who this was that I was being introduced to. It took a minute for it to register. And then, I thought, “OH MY! What an amazing moment! What just happened? Oh yes, I just shook hands with Luis Alberto Urrea and his wife!” What an honor! He encouraged me to keep writing and not give up on my work, that someday I would be very successful and people would come to me, begging for what I have to offer. I thought, “OK, OK then…I better keep at this poetry business.” ❤

Last night, after the keynote, I purchased a copy of one of Luis Alberto Urrea’s novels, INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH. And today, after the Q and A session with him, the festival participants were invited to bring their books to Luis Alberto Urrea for signing. I stood in line, chatting with one of my other mentors, Professor Harold Schneider. I felt very much surrounded by lots of light and love and inspiration. Once at the table, Luis Alberto Urrea signed my copy of his book, took several photos with me, and also accepted a small gift I had brought for him–a copy of my very own chapbook, BIRD FROM AFRICA. I was so excited to give it to him. He asked me if I had signed it, and when I said no, he asked me to sign it because it was not fair for him to sign my copy of his book and me not sign a copy of my chapbook. So I signed my chapbook. I signed it, “Luis Alberto, Thank you for your light!”

Thank you… for your light. And thank you to all the SummerWords organizers and sponsors and presenters…thank you for your light. This festival truly brings much light to so many of us humble artists and writers. It fills me up with inspiration when I need it the most. I cannot wait for next year. For the next SummerWords. I cannot wait for more and more light! Bright light like this is something to look for and look forward to. And I live for it! ❤

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