Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Juan Felipe Herrera Named U.S. Poet Laureate

Today the Library of Congress announced the appointment of Juan Felipe Herrera as the nation's 21st poet laureate. A son of migrant farm workers in California, Herrera will be the nation's first Mexican American poet laureate since the creation of the position in 1936. He was California's poet laureate from 2012 to 2014.

"Juan Felipe is someone who believes that poetry can make a difference in people's lives and communities," said Jennifer Benka, executive director of the Academy of American Poets, in a Washington Post article announcing the news. "He will bring an enthusiasm and electricity to the role of poet laureate that is sure to spark new and wider interest in the art form among people of all ages."

"He is not consciously ambassadorial," says Stephen Burt, professor of English at Harvard University. "He doesn't stop to explain things so people who aren't Latino will understand them; he just does what he does. And trusts, correctly I think, that the language and the emotional trajectories of the characters or the bits of narrative in the poems will fascinate you enough that if you're interested and you don't get the references, then you can go look them up."

Juan Felipe Herrera was born in Fowler, California, on December 27, 1948, and lived in tents and trailers with his parents in farm communities around Southern California. He is the author of numerous poetry collections and other works that include video, photography, theater, prose, and performance, making him a leading voice on the Mexican American and indigenous experience. Click on the following links to the website to read more about his life and work, watch video of the poet performing his work, and more.

Photo: University of California, Riverside