Juan Felipe Herrera Named U.S. Poet Laureate

Juan Felipe Herrera previously served as Poet Laureate of California.
Juan Felipe Herrera previously served as Poet Laureate of California.
Courtesy of Blue Flower Arts

Juan Felipe Herrera will be the next U.S. Poet Laureate, The Library of Congress announced on Tuesday, June 10. He is the first Latino poet appointed to the position.

"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," the 66-year-old California-based writer says in the announcement.

Herrera will succeed current Poet Laureate Charles Wright and begin his one-year term in the fall of 2015. Though there are not many specific duties associated with the position, Laureates have worked in recent years to broaden poetry's audience.

Herrera was born in California to migrant farm workers and went on to study anthropology at UCLA and Stanford. He earned his masters in fine arts at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He's published 28 books, including novels, children's books, and more than a dozen poetry collections. Herrera has published seven collections with Tucson's University of Arizona Press, including 2008's lauded Half the World in Light: New and Selected Poems, which received both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the International Latino Book Award.

"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," Librarian of Congress James H. Billington says in the appointment announcement. "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."

The prolific writer has won numerous awards, including two Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Awards, a PEN USA National Poetry Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Herrera previously served as Poet Laureate of California, chair of the Chicano and Latin American Studies Department at California State University, Fresno, and chaired the creative writing department at the University of California, Riverside. Now, he is a visiting professor at University of Washington, Seattle's American Ethnic Studies department. 

"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," Herrera says. "It is a miracle of many of us coming together."

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