Laura J. Clement. Urza a 2020 Oregon Book Award finalist, for his 2019 novella, “The White Death: An Illusion,” which has been nominated for the Ken Kelsey Award For Fiction. The awards are to be announced on April 27.
He was introduced to the Visual Arts Theatre audience by MHCC literature/composition instructor Jonathan Morrow, who told listeners the novella (a work of fiction longer than a short story, but shorter than a full novel) chronicles the life of a 14-year-old magician and illusionist known as “The Great Bendini,” who dies under mysterious circumstances, during a magic act.
The story, given from the perspective of the intertwining lives of three characters, is set in a small Basque town in Spain during the second half of the 20th century. Morrow told the crowd it’s a fascinating study of a curious character that takes readers both backward and forward in time.
Actor and writer Michael James Shaw is quoted as saying, “the book is so strong, beautiful and lyrical, that it’s difficult to tear yourself away,” Morrow added.
The son of immigrants who came from the “Basque country” within Spain, Urza attended law school at the University of Nevada and became a public defender at the young age of 25. He was inexperienced and “barely swam,” he told those in attendance. He recalled forgetting a client’s name, and his clients list included a cow rustler.
“I met bailiffs and judges,” he continued. “One day, I walked past a judge’s conference room and 10 minutes later, the judge had been shot! (The judge lived.) He was a divorce judge,” he added.
Urza acknowledged that seeing “dark things” such as these, along with difficult challenges he saw his colleagues facing, prompted him to take a writing class at the University of Nevada. “That changed my life,” the author said. He decided to quit his law job and pursue graduate studies after being accepted in the MFA writing program at Ohio State University.
Having always been intrigued by stories of his country of ancestry, and desiring a change after a romantic disappointment, Urza dropped everything and journeyed to the Basque region. There, he enjoyed experiencing and delving into its political history.
It was here that he completed his first book, “All That Followed,” a fictionalized novel based on a true story, was published in 2015.
It takes place during a time of political upheaval and is based on the kidnapping and killing of a Spanish politician for the Popular Party (PP), Miguel Angel Blanco, who was murdered by the separatist group ETA, in 1997.
Publishers Weekly chose “All That Followed,” for its Best Summer Books of 2015 list. It also was an Indie Next pick for August 2015.
Today, Urza lives in a small house in Hood River with his wife, 4-year-old son and another family member. He is an assistant professor of writing at Portland State University. He plans on traveling to Peru this summer, but first expects to be assisting an attorney friend with a murder trial in the spring.