Journalist Sonia Nazario won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for "Enrique's Journey," a serial narrative she wrote for the Los Angeles Times. The six-part story traced a young Honduran boy's dogged quest to find his mother, who had slipped across the border into the United States to find a job.
Enrique set out on foot after her, walking north for miles through jungles, hopping trains and hitchhiking. He was beaten and robbed, crawled back home — and stubbornly set out again. And again.
"Enrique's Journey" was a classic tale of separation, and also eye-opening reportage about the growing problem of violence, poverty and loss among immigrants, especially children.
Nazario later expanded the serial into a book, which became an award-winning bestseller and a popular choice for community reads across the country.
She will be in Minnesota this month for two events. Her book has been chosen for One Book, One Lakeville, and she'll speak at the event on Saturday. She will also be the Club Book guest in Edina on Monday.
Nazario will return to Minnesota in June to accept the Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award.
Q: You first wrote about Enrique in 2002. Why have you stayed with the story for so many years?
A: The primary reason is the impact this story continues to have on readers. It's helped educate millions about immigrants during a period of the greatest hostility toward unlawful migrants since the Great Depression. From 1990 to 2010, the U.S. saw the largest wave of immigration in our nation's history.
It's hard to step away from a topic when children are increasingly being deported to countries in Central America that have become the most violent places on Earth. They're sometimes being killed when they're sent back by our government.
Q: What about Enrique's story do you think is relevant today?
A: The typical child apprehended by U.S. immigration authorities is a 14-year-old boy. Most who ride the trains are beaten, robbed and have to make several attempts before they are able to make it through Mexico.
For many in this country, this is a deeply personal story. School districts and universities need to understand Enrique's story because many of their students had a similar journey.
Q: What was your reporting process?
A: To get the level of detail needed, I retraced Enrique's journey step by step.
I started at his grandmother's house in Honduras, rode buses to southern Mexico, got up on a freight train in southern Mexico and rode on top of seven freight trains to the place where Enrique got off.
Then he hitchhiked on a truck, and I did the same thing from the exact spot. It was effective but dangerous. I had many close calls, and when I returned to the U.S. after the 1,600-mile journey, I had post-traumatic stress.
Q: Describe your writing room.
A: I have two writing rooms. One is my home office. There's a desk with a large computer screen and keyboard hooked up to my laptop. Often when I write, I put up photos of the place or scene I am trying to describe.
The problem with a home office is that when I am trying to avoid writing, there are too many distractions. That's why I have a second writing room: a noisy cafe in my California neighborhood. It's just a couple of blocks from the ocean, so when I need a break, I just step outside and gaze out across the Pacific. It never gets old.
Q: What is your writing strategy?
A: I try to carve out from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to write. I love e-mails, but since I get a daily deluge, I use a software that blocks out the Internet, so I'm not tempted to see what's filling my in-box.
The best writing happens when I can block out everything else and enter that world or scene I want to convey to others. When that happens, I can have an hour or two go by as if it were a minute.
Q: Do you have a favorite book from childhood?
A: The book that most spoke to me growing up was Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude." I found the magical realism in that book different, and fascinating.
I wasn't a big reader when I was growing up. I think a lot of what was offered to read in schools when I was growing up were books that I couldn't relate to in any way. The books that teachers assigned were part of the famous "canon" — Shakespeare, Poe and other books mostly written by dead white men. As a child of Argentine immigrants, I wasn't offered anything that I could relate to.
Q: What's on your desk?
A: Photos of people I love — my siblings, my nieces, my mother before she descended into the fog of Alzheimer's, which she has had for more than a decade. I have a photo of my wedding day more than two decades ago. I am beaming.
Most of the 80 or 100 awards I've won are put away in boxes in the garage. But I do keep one on my desk: the small glass triangle that is the Pulitzer Prize. It reminds me to always try and do my best work going forward.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: I recently read "Into the Beautiful North," by Luis Alberto Urrea, a book that is part of the NEA's Big Read.
I was asked to speak at the University of Texas-Pan American this week about issues raised in that book and how they relate to immigrant children, my own work and the immigration issue as a whole.
Q: Which authors have inspired you?
A: There are too many to name, but in general, I'm inspired by authors who take me to worlds I didn't know anything about. I love books that have a universal theme — greed, revenge, redemption — something anyone can identify with.
I love books that have compelling characters, and a question that provides the engine to keep you reading to the end. But mostly, I love books that transport me to new and interesting places.
I love stories that take me on a ride.