UW News

June 10, 2015

Prolific and profound: UW professor named U.S. Poet Laureate

News and Information

Juan Felipe Herrera, visiting professor of ethnic studies at the University of Washington, was named the 21st United States Poet Laureate on Wednesday.

Herrera, who for the past two years has been the California Poet Laureate, is the first Latino honored since the U.S. Consultant in Poetry program began in 1937 (the title changed to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in 1986). In addition to writing poetry, Herrera also explores issues relevant to Latino culture through his novels, short stories and performance pieces.

Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera

“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,” Herrera said in the Library of Congress’ announcement. “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.”

The U.S. Poet Laureate’s mission is to instill a greater national appreciation for the reading and writing of poetry. This is accomplished through outreach programs they develop through their appointment, which runs from September through May. Working in conjunction with the Library of Congress, Herrera’s proposed project, “Casa de Colores” (“House of Colors”), would focus on racial and cultural inclusion.

Herrera was born in Fowler, California, in 1948. As the son of migrant farm workers, he moved around often, living in tents and trailers along the road in Southern California, and attended school in a variety of small towns from San Francisco to San Diego. In 1972 he graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with a bachelor’s degree in social anthropology. He then attended Stanford University, where he received a master’s degree in social anthropology, and in 1990 received a Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Herrera has written over a dozen poetry collections, including “Half the World in Light: New and Selected Poems” (2008), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the International Latino Book Award. He is also a celebrated young adult and children’s book author. His honors include the Américas Award for both “Cinnamon Girl: letters found inside a cereal box” (2005) and “Crashboomlove: A Novel in Verse” (1999), as well as the Independent Publisher Book Award for “Featherless / Desplumado” (2005), the Ezra Jack Keats Award for “Calling the Doves” (1995) and the Pura Belpré Author Honor Award for both “Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes” and “Laughing Out Loud, I Fly” (1998).

“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,” Librarian of Congress James Billington said of Herrera’s poems.

For his poetry, Herrera has received two Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Awards, a PEN USA National Poetry Award, the PEN Oakland / Josephine Miles Award, a PEN / Beyond Margins Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Stanford University Chicano Fellows.

Herrera has served as the chair of the Chicano and Latin American Studies Department at California State University, Fresno, and held the Tomas Rivera Endowed Chair in the Creative Writing Department at the University of California, Riverside, where he taught until retiring in 2015 and heading to the UW for a visiting professorship in the Department of American Ethnic Studies. Elected as a chancellor for the Academy of American Poets in 2011, he also served as the Poet Laureate of California from 2012-2015.

 

(Note: This release was adapted from the Library of Congress’ release)