Urrea's first book, Across the Wire, was named a New York Times Notable Book and won the Christopher Award.
In 1994, he won the 1994 Colorado Book Award in poetry for The Fever of Being as well as the Western States Book Award in poetry. He was also included in The 1996 Best American Poetry collection.
In 1999, Urrea won an American Book Award for his memoir, Nobody's Son: Notes from an American Life.
His book of short stories, Six Kinds of Sky, was named the 2002 small-press Book of the Year in fiction by the editors of ForeWord magazine.
In 2000, he was voted into the Latino Literature Hall of Fame following the publication of Vatos.
The Devil's Highway won the 2004 Lannan Literary Award, the Border Regional Library Association's Southwest Book Award  and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and for the Pacific Rim Kiriyama Prize. It was also optioned for a film by CDI Producciones. The book was adopted as the 2010 One Book for Sac State
His short story "Amapola" won the Edgar Award in 2010 for best mystery short story. It can be found in the anthology Phoenix Noir.