UW News

May 22, 2008

Immigration issue is central to new Common Book

The Devil’s Highway: A True Story, by Luis Alberto Urrea, has been selected as the third UW Common Book by Undergraduate Academic Affairs. The UW Common Book project aims to introduce freshmen to the University’s academic community through a common reading experience and opportunities to engage in campus discussions and activities around the book.

The Devil’s Highway follows 26 men who in May 2001 attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of southern Arizona, a landscape dubbed the Devil’s Highway. Of the 26, only 12 survived. Through this reporting, Urrea tells the complex story of life on the U.S. border, bringing humanity both to those who enforce border policies and those who attempt to enter the country. UW sophomore Hang Nguyen says, “Urrea elegantly weaves immigration history into a contemporary journey of striving men. Prepare yourself to endure the thirst, desperation and heat as you embark on Urrea’s journey.”

Urrea is a highly acclaimed writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. He is the recipient of a Lannan Literary Award, an American Book Award, a Western States Book Award and a Colorado Book Award, and he has been inducted into the Latino Literary Hall of Fame. The Devil’s Highway was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. He is currently a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

“The UW Common Book is about challenging freshmen to examine important subjects and build community around significant issues,” says Ed Taylor, dean and vice provost of Undergraduate Academic Affairs, the department overseeing the UW Common Book project. “Immigration stands among the significant matters that our community and world will face. We look forward to engaging students with the University of Washington’s substantial teaching and research talent around these complex issues.”

Taylor and Jill McKinstry, director of Odegaard Undergraduate Library, co-chaired a selection committee of 15 UW faculty, students, and administrators representing varied disciplines and units on campus. Drawing from agreed upon criteria for choosing a book that would develop community focused on intellectual inquiry, the committee recommended The Devil’s Highway from a narrowed list of more than 20 selections.

“This book is a masterful piece of investigative journalism,” says McKinstry. “Using a wide range of rhetorical skills, Urrea exposes the complexities of immigration in the United States today in a very direct way. We hope that reading this work will stimulate discussion among the freshmen and the community and bring a human perspective to the difficult issues of immigration policy and enforcement.”

Students will receive the book at their summer advising and orientation session with the expectation that they read it before fall quarter begins Sept. 24.