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Cristina Henríquez

Critically acclaimed author of The Book of Unknown Americans and The Great Divide

FYE Conference 2016: “How I knew I wanted to be a writer”
  • About Cristina Henríquez

    Cristina Henríquez is the author most recently of The Great Divide, an epic novel about the building of the Panama Canal and the unsung people who lived and labored there. Her previous books include The Book of Unknown Americans, The World In Half and Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories. She has been longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

    Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, The Oxford American, The American Scholar, and elsewhere. She was a 2020 Fiction judge for the National Book Awards, has been a guest on National Public Radio, and is a recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Award, a grant started by Sandra Cisneros in honor of her father.

    In her lectures, Cristina Henríquez, who grew up half-American, half-Panamanian, speaks about identity and addresses common narratives about immigration. A gifted writer with a great talent for creating intimate and authentic character portraits, Henríquez also speaks to aspiring writers about the writer’s creative and technical process.

    The hardships and legal battles of immigration are in the headlines every day, yet the nitty-gritty, humor, and heart behind them have rarely been brought to the page. In writing The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henríquez was inspired by her father’s Panamà-to-U.S. immigration story. The novel, which has been called, “a flawlessly written book about immigration,” brings to life the varied human stories behind the ongoing debate about immigration through the eyes of characters from all over Latin America. In her latest novel, The Great Divide, Henríquez explores the collision of cultures during the construction of the Panama Canal, drawing on both her family history and her extensive research of the period.

    Henríquez earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

    Contact us to learn more about booking Cristina Henríquez for your next event. 

    Cristina Henriquez

  • Speaking Topics

    The Overlooked Immigrant

    The word “immigrant” is loaded with stereotypes and myths, and the media perpetuates our most commonly accepted narratives of immigration. But what about the immigrants we don’t usually hear about? Who are they, and why is it important to find out? Within the framework of a historical context of immigration, this lecture is a celebration of ordinary stories and a paean to overlooked immigrants everywhere.

    The Divide Within

    Cristina shares her own experience of growing up half-American, half-Panamanian, and how her sense of her own identity formed and has been continually reshaped over her life. She discusses how this unique perspective gives rise to the themes present in her latest novel, The Great Divide, as well as in all of her work, including culture, identity, community, and belonging.

    It Starts With a Sentence

    Where does a story come from? How does it begin? This lecture is a glimpse into one writer’s creative process, starting with the point of inception – a single sentence. Cristina illustrates (with PowerPoint slides!) how she makes the creative choices that, at each turn, build and shape a work of fiction. She provides insight into her process for drafting, revising, and researching, offering inspiration as well as practical advice along the way.

  • Video

  • Praise for Cristina Henríquez


    She was terrific. Very engaging and thoughtful, expansive in her answers. The audience of mostly students clearly was enthralled. Many stuck around afterwards to talk with her

    Department of Social Sciences and Historical Studies, Texas Woman’s University

    The event was a great success – one of our best! This is mostly due to Cristina, who was a very engaging, thoughtful, and inspirational speaker. The conversation was terrific, and the Q&A afterwards demonstrated how much our students got out of this. A number of them stuck around after the lecture to talk with Cristina. She was really wonderful to work with.

    Texas Woman’s University

    Thank you to Cristina for her amazing presentation yesterday. She was extremely engaging, entertaining, honest, and thought-provoking. We got some great feedback and are ordering many copies of her book! She was truly a pleasure to work with. And thank you for all your help!

    Wiggin & Dana, LLP

    We want to extend deep gratitude to Cristina for sharing her time, knowledge and experiences with our firm at our Hispanic Heritage Month Diversity Speaker Series event yesterday. Hearing her story was both inspiring and challenging in the sense of encouraging us to think critically about how we can continue to make a difference both in our firm but also within the broader community. We’ve had an outpouring of comments from our attendees during and after the event. We so value her taking the time to be with us. I also really enjoyed working with you for the entire process from start to finish – you are so responsive and easy to work with. Thank you so much and I look forward to working with you again in the future!

    Jenner & Block LLP

    We had over 100 students attend…during their after-school time. While that may not seem significant, I can promise you that right now, there isn’t much that motivates students to get back on zoom after school. I mention this to say that Cristina’s presentation was important to them. They not only showed up, but they were excited to ask her questions and to talk with her. They had more questions than we had time for – which is outstanding. All of the staff who attended loved it. We (teachers) were writing notes on so many of the key points she talked about – ideas we had definitely discussed in class, and ideas she took further that we want to come back to! It was powerful. Cristina is amazing. I can keep going, as it was truly amazing! Cristina is so lovely, and kind!

    Patrick Henry High School

    Cristina was an absolute delight—extremely generous with her time and very welcoming to the students. The reading went beautifully. It was one of the most moving readings I can remember, and I thought all other aspects of the visit also went extremely well. The students and faculty loved meeting her and talking to her about her work, and I know we were all very inspired by the visit. Please pass along our deepest gratitude to Christina and let her know how much her visit meant to all of us here at Trinity.

    Trinity University

    Cristina spoke very genuinely and movingly about the power of fiction to create empathy and connect readers with parts of themselves and others. Cristina was a dynamic and personable speaker who had clearly prepared for the event. It’s always not easy to engage with the audience virtually, but based on their comments, attendees were clearly connecting with her.

    King County Library System

    The event was terrific — Cristina was super engaging in her presentation, in the lunch with student leaders, and one-on-one. I think it was our best event yet. The book turned out to be the perfect choice for our semester-long conversation about immigration — it allowed a bit of cover for our population who live the realities of the situation and a moment of empathy for those who don’t. I’ve heard from students, staff, and faculty that the book held great meaning for them and everyone thoroughly enjoyed Cristina’s talk.

    Cardinal Stritch University

    Wherever I go, I am stopped and told how much they enjoyed Cristina’s onstage conversation. We had not done that format in the past and it was very well received.  She really is articulate, funny and so very smart.  She did a superb job and we thank you for setting this up.  I loved my time with her.

    Lake Oswego Public Library

    Cristina was wonderful! Very easy to work with, and her talk was engaging, thoughtful, and really spoke to the many themes and conversations we had begun with our new students during orientation. She was hit! Students had really positive feedback as well. I would highly recommend Cristina.

    Mount Holyoke College

    …Cristina’s visit was a smash hit. The book was warmly received; she made everyone comfortable and was exceedingly charming and warm.

    Gettysburg College

    Having Cristina Henriquez on the Purdue campus for a reading was one of the highlights of the year. Not only is Henriquez an eminently talented writer who imbues her prose with grace and soul, she is a charming, warm, and engaging reader. She had the audience of students, faculty, and community members rapt as she read from her latest novel, The Book of Unknown Americans and after, she led one of the best Q & A sessions I’ve ever attended and I have attended many. She was able to talk about craft and content with intelligence and humor and we can’t wait to bring her back to campus.

    Roxane Gay, Associate Professor, Purdue University

    Cristina Henriquez was a huge asset to the 2014 Texas Book Festival. She’s funny, engaging, smart, inclusive—the kind of author that can speak articulately about her own work while actually answering the questions that are asked of her, not to mention respectfully giving her co-panelist the space to also speak. THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS was one of my favorites of 2014 and the crowds that came to see her speak about it (and purchase copies) indicate that I’m not the only one who felt this way.

    Texas Book Festival

    Praise for The Book of Unknown Americans

    There’s an aura of benevolence in these pages that feels honestly come by, stemming in part from Mayor and Maribel’s innocent romance but mostly from the steady support and encouragement among the families—the charismatic residents of the Redwood Apartments in Delaware. ‘Who comes to the U.S. and ends up in Delaware?’, one [character] jokingly wonders . . . Henríquez’s feat is to make the reader feel at home amid these good, likeable people. Be warned: The price of this closeness is the book’s tragic conclusion.

    The Wall Street Journal

    Henríquez distills the vast sea of immigrant stories into a small apartment building community in Delaware. At the center are two star-crossed teens, Mayor and Maribel . . . Through their friendship and budding romance, Mayor becomes a hero, protecting Maribel from a dangerous boy. He starts to bring her out of her shell [and] Maribel begins to reconnect with her former self. Their doomed love is just one of the Romeo & Juliet twists in the book—Henríquez threads that theme through the relationships between parents and their children, husbands and wives, the immigrant community with their home countries and their new one . . . Through her unadorned prose, these struggles ring clear, voices rising above the din of political debate.

    USA Today
  • Books by Cristina Henríquez

  • Media About Cristina Henríquez

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