Juan Felipe Herrera, the first Latino Poet Laureate of the United StatesBy Fernanda Duque Hernández
Yes, I am the first Latino poet laureate in the United States, but I'm also here for everyone.
On Wednesday, the United States librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, announced the designation of Juan Felipe Herrera as Library’s 21st Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, for 2015-2016. Herrera is the author of 28 books of poetry and the first Latino to receive this recognition since the position was created in 1936.
The son of Mexican farm immigrants, Herrera grew up on a plantation in California. Throughout his childhood he was influenced by the work of poets as Allen Ginsberg, William Wordsworth and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Late in his youth, he became involved with surrealism, creating an experimental style that he mixed with his childhood experience as a Latino immigrant.
His memories of living in trailers and moving frequently to different agricultural areas around southern California, inspired him to write poetry books such as ‘Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream’, ‘Notebooks of a Chile Verde Smuggler’, and ‘187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross The Border’.
“His poems engage in a serious sense of play—in language and in image—that I feel gives them enduring power,” Billington said about Herrera’s work on a press release. “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.”
As a matter of fact, Juan Felipe Herrera is a University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) graduate and holds degrees from Stanford University and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He is also a retired teacher of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.
“I want to assist with closing the gap of knowing about and hearing about our Latino communities in terms of literature, in terms of writing,” Herrera told to Associated Press. “And I want our young Latinos and Latinas to write their hearts out and express their hearts out and let us all listen to each other."
As Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, for 2015-2016, Herrera will have to develop poetry projects for audiences of this art. For this period he has stated his intention to implement a program called Casa de Colores (Lit. House of Colors) which is aimed at helping youth of every ethnicity and culture express themselves through poetry and music.
"Yes, I am the first Latino poet laureate in the United States, but I'm also here for everyone and from everyone,” Herrera said. “My voice is made by everyone's voices,"
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