Meet U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera

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New US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera held his inaugural reading as poet laureate last week at the Library of Congress. Herrera was announced as US Poet Laureate in June 2015, making him the first Latino ever to be the nation’s poet laureate in the nearly 80 years since the creation of the position.

Herrera was the son of braceros (migrant farm workers) and attributes his early experiences as influences in his work. He received his B.A. in Social Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles, his Masters in Social Anthropology from Stanford University, and a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa.

His works of poetry include: Rebozos of Love (1974), Exiles of Desire (1985), Facegames (1987), Akrílica (1989), The Roots of a Thousand Embraces: Dialogues (1994), Night Train to Tuxtla: New Stories and Poems (1994), Love After the Riots (1996), Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream (1999), Lotería Cards & Fortune Poems (1999), Thunderweavers (2000), Giraffe on Fire: Poems (2001), Notebooks of a Chile Verde Smuggler (2002), 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross The Border, Undocuments 1971-2007 (2007), Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (2008), and Senegal Taxi (2013). He is also an author of 11 young adult and children’s books, including Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes (2014). He has a long list of awards and honors, including being appointed poet laureate for the State of California in 2012

In the announcement of his appointment, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington says:

“I see in Herrera’s poems the work of an American original—work that takes the sublimity and largesse of “Leaves of Grass” and expands upon it,” Billington said. “His poems engage in a serious sense of play—in language and in image—that I feel gives them enduring power. I see how they champion voices, traditions and histories, as well as a cultural perspective, which is a vital part of our larger American identity.”

And Herrera himself says:

This is a mega-honor for me, for my family and my parents who came up north before and after the Mexican Revolution of 1910—the honor is bigger than me. I want to take everything I have in me, weave it, merge it with the beauty that is in the Library of Congress, all the resources, the guidance of the staff and departments, and launch it with the heart-shaped dreams of the people. It is a miracle of many of us coming together.”

You can find more information about Herrera’s Poet Laureate Project at La Casa de Colores.

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