A Literary Evening with Héctor Tobar

October 4, 2016

On Monday September 21st, Héctor Tobar kicked off the Literary Monday Night Lecture Series presented by Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures with a discussion of his latest book, Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free. His book is the story of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped unground for 69 days in 2010, a story that sparked international interest.

The author of this novel, Héctor Tobar, was raised in Los Angeles by Guatemalan immigrants and is a critically acclaimed journalist and novelist. While writing for the Los Angeles Times, his team received a Pulitzer Prize in journalism for their coverage of the Watts Riots. Tobar has published four books and Deep Down Dark is a New York Times bestseller as well as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

In his lecture, Tobar spoke of the miners’ story, the process of writing the book, and his reasons for undertaking this project. Tobar artfully injected humorous anecdotes while ardently describing his novel and the collective experience of the miners. It is clear through his lecture that Tobar is passionate about the sense of working class solidarity that motivated the 33 miners to come together and decide to sell their story collectively rather than allowing only certain people to profit.

Also, Tobar reflected on his heritage and how it motivated him to share the narrative of working class Latin Americans. The parents of Tobar immigrated to the United States from Guatemala and his paternal grandmother was an illiterate working class woman. This connection to working class struggles is evident in the way he spoke of the sense of working-class poetry as the miners told their stories and described the suffering associated with the mine. Tobar said, “It is my own personal belief about history that all of us, have within a generation or two a story of need, a story of want, a story of migration, in sharecroppers whether we be Korean immigrants, we all have a story back there, not too far and these men were the same.” He compares the journey the men went through as an Odyssey, complete with triumphs and temptations and a journey to return home, and himself as their Homer.

Moreover, Tobar describes his novel as a story about labor and a love of home. “The book becomes a book about family, about family routines, and about how these men desperately want to go home to the world that a woman built for them, to the meal on the table, to the tablecloth on the table, to dinner at 9 p.m.…. to having your children around you and hearing the stories of their day. Because when these men were trapped, that’s when they realized that was the best part of themselves, that it wasn’t how much money they have made, how much property they owned, or even how many women they had slept with. The most important thing was that they had loved people, that they had loved family.” Overall, Tobar’s lecture connected the audience to the Chilean miners’ story and emphasized some his book’s poignant themes of solidarity, labor, and love.


"Héctor Tobar." Héctor Tobar Writer. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.

Héctor, Tobar. "Literary Evening with Héctor Tobar." Monday Night Lecture Series. Carnegie Music Hall, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 21 Sept. 2015. Lecture.

"Héctor Tobar." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.

The photograph in the header is courtesy of Renee Rosensteel.

About Author(s)

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Marissa Ferrighetto
Marissa Ferrighetto is an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in economics and is pursuing minors in Spanish and history and certificates in Latin American Studies and leadership. The fall semester of her junior year she studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina and fell in love with Latin America. She is in her senior year and is a contributor to Panoramas.