Entertainment, Featured

Juan Felipe Herrera: The Latino US Poet Laureate

January 26, 2017

By Diana Rodriguez

Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera

People say inspiration is always around the corner. In Logan Heights, some people say inspiration is just across the bridge. Juan Felipe Herrera finds inspiration everywhere he goes. “I have a Ph.D in daydreaming,” says Herrera, who is the Poet Laureate of the United States.
Herrera graduated from San Diego High School in 1967 and received the Educational Opportunity Program scholarship to attend the University of California, Los Angeles where he received his B.A. in Social Anthropology. Later, he received his Masters in Social Anthropology from Stanford University, and his Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa.
Over the span of his career, Herrera has penned over 30 books, including poetry anthologies, novels, young adult literature, and children’s picture books.
From 2012-2014, he served as California’s poet laureate and has won the Hungry Mind Award of Distinction, the Focal Award, two Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Awards, and a PEN West Poetry Award.
In 2015, Herrera was appointed the 21st United States Poet Laureate, making him the first Mexican American to hold the position. He was re-appointed in April 2016 for a second term. This title is given by the Librarian of the United States Congress and it gives a single person the distinction and responsibility to serve as the nation’s official poet.
Herrera also serves as an Endowed Scholar-in-Residence at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla. His residency included classroom visits, addressing the student body in an assembly, and also presenting his life journey as the son of migrant farmers in central California.
“You all have beautiful minds, really beautiful thinking. I urge you to develop what you love,” expressed Herrera on his message to the student body during an assembly at the Bishop’s School, encouraging young poets, and non-poets, to find their voices. Herrera also asked the audience to repeat after him by saying “I have a beautiful voice, even though I kind of don’t believe it.”
During this assembly, the Poet Laureate shared anecdotes from his youth along with tunes from his harmonica and memories of his parents.
“I got into poetry thanks to my mother,” explained Juan Felipe Herrera in interview for La Prensa San Diego. “I started writing because I just got so curious. That is the most important thing, you have to be extremely curious. My mother, she was always singing in the house, telling me stories, and she loved poetry.”
Influenced by Allen Ginsberg and Luis Valdez, as well the struggles of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, Herrera writes passionately about social issues. Herrera addresses these topic through mediums such as video, photography, theater, and poetry, making Herrera a leading voice on the Mexican-American and indigenous experience.
“These days it is good to speak up, whatever the point of view is because that way we become more human, notice others, and reflect more fully as human beings. Poetry is certainly a call to action,” punctuated Herrera about the need to express one’s self.
Students at the presentation heard Herrera reciting old and current poems in both English and Spanish. Herrera’s sense of humor and inspiring personality caused lots of applauds and cheering from the audience. At the end of his lecture, Herrera invited students to write celebration poems and read them out loud. “Always experiment, try something new, use interesting words, scribble, pay attention to details, details are big, write poetry, and please use spellcheck,” expressed the U.S. Poet Laureate.
Juan Felipe Herrera is the author of 30 books, including collections of poetry, prose, short stories, young adult novels and picture books for children. From 2012-2014, he served as California’s poet laureate. He has won the Hungry Mind Award of Distinction, the Focal Award, two Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Awards, and a PEN West Poetry Award.
Herrera graduated from San Diego High School in 1967 and received the Educational Opportunity Program scholarship to attend the University of California, Los Angeles where he received his B.A. in Social Anthropology. Later, he received his Masters in Social Anthropology from Stanford University, and his Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa.

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