Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border

Available in paperback

Winner of the 1993 Christopher Award

New York Times Notable Book

A compelling and unprecedented look at life on the other side of the border.  Despite the numbers of people crossing over to the U.S., hundreds more remain behind in abject poverty.  Urrea worked closely with them and provides a compassionate and candid account of their lives.


From Luis

About Across the Wire

Coolest authorial achievement:  Calexico recorded a song called “Across the Wire” for their Feast of Wire album.  Yeah!  It is this Across the Wire.

                My first book, published in 1993.  I cannot begin to explain the ritual of sacrifice and struggle that began in this book and seems to have been present through the rest of my career.  I have said—you’ve heard me say this on tour—that I thought if I wrote a book about people abandoned by the world, left to starve in utter pain and depravity, then everyone would want to read it.  This is the benefit of being young.  I just didn’t know any better.

                My father died at the hands of the Mexican cops in 1977.  It’s in this book, by the way, in a chapter called “Father’s Day.”  I was in college at the time, and I was busted up pretty thoroughly by the experience.  I didn’t have the energy left to go to graduate school.  So I floundered around—graveyard shifts scrubbing public toilets, manning a 7-11.  Cartoonist for…let’s say clothing optional  magazines.  Of course, film extra.  A year or so after having moved to Hollywood and crawled back broke but suntanned, I went to Tijuana with a missionary-type group to check out the ol’ homeland.  I saw the mind-boggling stuff even a homeboy doesn’t usually see.  The life of people sleeping in boxes, picking trash, eating dead dogs, selling their bods and sleeping in hand-dug tunnels under ruined buildings.  I saw it all.  And I somehow got this notion to stop trying to be Stephen King and start writing about this.

                So I kept notebooks.  And I was miraculously hired to leave San Diego and teach Expos at Harvard.  Took the notebooks.  And a typewriter.  And a John D. MacDonald mystery and Elvis Costello records.  And Bo Diddley got on my plane, so I knew I was blessed by God.

                I was rejected for ten eyars straight.  From 1982/3 to 1992.  Over and over.  One huge-hearted New York editor said, I quote, because I will never forget it:  “Nobody cares about starving Mexicans.”

                As soon as I gave up, after so much failure, and went on to grad school so I could teach English, Anchor Books bought it.  Go figure.  That God has a wild sense of humor.


Book club members have been some of my most enthusiastic and careful readers. I’m thrilled to share my work with you, answer your questions and tell you some of the stories behind the stories. This is our spot, just for us. Here, we can chat:  If I’m nearby, I’ll come and visit your club. Otherwise, we can Skype, talk over the phone or email. Sometimes, I’ll send surprises or hold contests.

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upcoming events

Border Cantos
Border Cantos Mar 31st 7 p.m. Bentonville, AR

Reading and talk at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Details here.

Bentonville, AR
Mar 31st
7 p.m.
PEN/Faulkner Reading Series
PEN/Faulkner Reading Series Apr 7th 7:30 p.m. Folger Library, Washington DC

Proud to be part of the prestigious series in a reading with Laila Lalami and Shobha Rao. Tickets and details here

Folger Library, Washington DC
Apr 7th
7:30 p.m.
Holyoke Big Read
Holyoke Big Read Apr 11th to Apr 12th Holyoke, MA

Celebrating the NEA Big Read and Into the Beautiful North in Holyoke, MA. Sponsored by the Mary Lyon Foundation, Holyoke has done some great events all year. Now we get to meet each other! Details here.

Holyoke, MA
Apr 11th to Apr 12th
The Believer Lit Fest
The Believer Lit Fest Apr 21st to Apr 22nd Las Vegas, NV

Details to come

Las Vegas, NV
Apr 21st to Apr 22nd
UCSB Reads Into the Beautiful North
UCSB Reads Into the Beautiful North Apr 24th 7:30 p.m. UC-Santa Barbara

Excited to meet the UCSanta Barbara students who are all reading Into the Beautiful North -- the first time UCSB has chosen a novel! Details here.

UC-Santa Barbara
Apr 24th
7:30 p.m.