'Migrant Stories': Author and MacArthur Fellow Valeria Luiselli to speak on American border crisis

By: C.A. Keller, 
Mon, 10/28/2019

In Valeria Luiselli’s new novel, Lost Children Archive, a family crosses the United States by car. They’re en route to Apacheria, Arizona, the place where the Apaches – the last free indigenous tribe in the United States – once called home. News of an immigration crisis at the border chases the family via radio.

Luiselli, a 2019 MacArthur Fellow, will discuss her novel and its implications for our present moment during her upcoming Department of Romance Studies’ Distinguished Lecture, “Migrant Stories in the American Border Crisis.” The lecture will take place at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15  in Klarman Hall’s Rhodes-Rawlings Auditorium.

A discussion of the novel’s themes with novelist and Department Chair Edmundo Paz Soldán will follow, along with a question and answer session with the audience.

“Luiselli’s visit to the Cornell campus is very timely,” Paz Soldán said. “In the past couple of years we have seen the dramatic humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexico border, with an enormous influx of migrants arriving daily, children separated from their parents, and people detained and not given proper facilities or told about their rights.”

With its focus squarely on the border crisis, Lost Children Archive has a tenacious grip on the American political present. On the one hand, the novel is a story about a couple trying to save their marriage and keep their family together. On the other, it’s a fierce interrogation of who has the right to a childhood. On their trek, the unnamed mother, determined to record the sounds of the border, is also searching for a friend’s missing, undocumented children.

Called “a mold-breaking new classic” by the New York Times, Lost Children Archive is based on Luiselli’s own immersive research in immigration court and at the border. The novel is a finalist for the 2019 Kirkus Prize for Fiction and was longlisted for the Booker Prize

Luiselli’s lecture will engage with themes from Lost Children Archive, but also extends from research for her earlier project, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions, which she compiled from interviews she conducted with undocumented children seeking a fresh start in the U.S.

“Luiselli’s personal interest in the situation of children at the border, shown in her last two books has turned her into one of the most prominent voices of the crisis,” Paz Soldán said. “Her lecture will focus on the complexity of the crisis and the urgent need for a solution that both respects the humanity of migrants and preserves the U.S.’s moral integrity.”

Born in Mexico City, Luiselli grew up in South Korea, South Africa and India. A writer of both fiction and nonfiction, she is the author of the essay collection Sidewalks and the novels Faces in the Crowd and The Story of My Teeth. She is the winner of an American Book Award, and in 2018, she received a Bearing Witness Fellowship from the Art for Justice Fund. Her work has been translated into more than twenty languages.




Author Valeria Luiselli. Photo by Diego Berruecos Gatopardo