Published by Catapult, Spirit Run released on March 3, 2020.
Growing up in Yakima, Washington, Noé Álvarez worked at an apple-packing plant alongside his mother, who “slouched over a conveyor belt of fruit, shoulder to shoulder with mothers conditioned to believe this was all they could do with their lives.” A university scholarship offered escape, but as a first-generation Latino college-goer, Álvarez struggled to fit in.
At nineteen, he learned about a Native American/First Nations movement called the Peace and Dignity Journeys, epic marathons meant to renew cultural connections across North America. He dropped out of school and joined a group of Dené, Secwépemc, Gitxsan, Dakelh, Apache, Tohono O’odham, Seri, Purépecha, and Maya runners, all fleeing difficult beginnings. Telling their stories alongside his own, Álvarez writes about a four-month-long journey from Canada to Guatemala that pushed him to his limits. He writes not only of overcoming hunger, thirst, and fear―dangers included stone-throwing motorists and a mountain lion―but also of asserting Indigenous and working-class humanity in a capitalist society where oil extraction, deforestation, and substance abuse wreck communities.
Running through mountains, deserts, and cities, and through the Mexican territory his parents left behind, Álvarez forges a new relationship with the land, and with the act of running, carrying with him the knowledge of his parents’ migration, and―against all odds in a society that exploits his body and rejects his spirit―the dream of a liberated future.
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Buzz for Spirit Run
“Yakima native Álvarez debuts with a spellbinding narrative of his coming to terms with his place in America today . . . In electric prose, Álvarez writes of returning home and forging a new connection with the land and its communities . . . This literary tour de force beautifully combines outdoor adventure with a sharp take on immigration.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Spirit Run is an eloquently written memoir by a young man straddling the world of his Mexican immigrant parents in the migrant-worker community of Yakima, Washington, and the mainstream society that beckons after he receives a full-ride scholarship to college . . . A powerful American coming-of-age story about a Mexican American who seeks to embrace his heritage while forging his own path forward. Certain to make a lasting impression on readers across generations and backgrounds, all of whom will be inspired by the young Álvarez.” ―Booklist, (starred review)
“The story of Mexican American Álvarez will speak directly to teens forging their way in the adult world.” ―Booklist (YA) (starred review)
“A swift-moving lope across the continent . . . A thoughtful first book that should inspire others to lace up their running shoes and get moving.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“A remarkable account of a 6,000-mile ultramarathon relay through North America.” ―Molly Mirhashem, Outside
“When the son of two Mexican immigrants hears about the Peace and Dignity Journeys―’epic marathons meant to renew cultural connections across North America’―he’s compelled enough to drop out of college and sign up for one. Spirit Run is Noé Álvarez’s account of the four months he spends trekking from Canada to Guatemala alongside Native Americans representing nine tribes, all of whom are seeking brighter futures through running, self-exploration, and renewed relationships with the land they’ve traversed.” ―Becky Wade, Runner’s World, One of the New Running Books of the Year
“Álvarez maps not only the land but his own body; his own relationship to people, earth, and ancestry; and the perils of capitalist frameworks that shape our lives on this land. Spirit Run is a running book, a social and environmental justice book, an anti-capitalist book, and an epic journey book.” ―Book Marks
“Like the act of running, and like Álvarez’s PDJ experience, Spirit Run is a complex, thought-provoking journey shot through with flashes of glory and hope.” ―Katie Noah Gibson, Shelf Awareness
“This book is not like any other out there. You will see this country in a fresh way, and you might see aspects of your own soul. A beautiful run.” ―Luís Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels
“Spirit Run is the story of what brown bodies must do to reclaim identity and dignity. In language that puts us not only in the shoes but in the skin of the displaced, Álvarez takes back Raymond Carver country and tells an electric, kinetic, modern working-class story. So few books make me sweat and cry. Spirit Run has summoned breath and energy out of me.” ―Cinelle Barnes, author of Monsoon Mansion and Malaya
“Noé Álvarez’s words beat with the pulse of our hemisphere. Through them, we encounter Mexican, Indigenous, and migrant stories that are distinctly, defiantly American. Spirit Run is an anthem to the landscape that holds our identities and traumas, and its profound power to heal them.” ―Francisco Cantú, author of The Line Becomes a River
“Like all the best running books, Spirit Run is about much more than clocking up the miles. Álvarez’s journey honors the migration story of his parents and the arduous crossings made by so many other Americans. Spirit Run is a stunning memoir that moves to the rhythm of feet, labor, and the many landscapes of the Americas.” ―Catriona Menzies-Pike, author of The Long Run
“Spirit Run is a remarkable book. In gentle, minimalist, profound prose, Noé Álvarez writes about his once-undocumented parents before going on to run thousands of miles with Indigenous people. He finds his own magic.” ―Douglas Whynott, author of The Sugar Season
“‘I know now that every bit of earth contains the sacredness of another person’s existence,’ says Noé Álvarez in this riveting debut memoir, which ruminates on the relationship of the body to the landscape and what it means to call a place home. This account of a run is also a journey into the mind that, after incredible tests of endurance and faith, blurs the distinction between running and prayer. Spirit Run offers a distinct vision of the risks we must take to attain a life worth living.” ―Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, author of Cenzontle
“A thoughtful, immersive debut memoir. Noé Álvarez grew up in central Washington state, where his parents worked in the fruit industry. Uncertain about his future, he leaves college to join the Peace and Dignity Journeys. Organized by Indigenous activists of the Americas, these quadrennial spiritual runs cover thousands of miles, beginning in Alaska and Argentina and meeting in Central America, connecting communities separated by political borders. Engrossing and beautifully written.” ―Julie Graham, Yakima Valley Libraries (Yakima, WA)
About the Author
Noé Álvarez was born to Mexican immigrant parents and raised working-class in Yakima, Washington. He lives in Boston, where, until recently, he worked as a security officer at one of the nation’s oldest libraries, the Boston Athenæum. You can keep up with all the latest from Noé on Twitter.