The New U.S. Poet Laureate: Juan Felipe Herrera

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Poetry readers, prepare yourselves for a passing of the laurels. The Library of Congress announced in the wee hours Wednesday that the next U.S. poet laureate will be California writer Juan Felipe Herrera. He will be the first Latino poet to be appointed to the position.
“This is a mega-honor for me,” Herrera said in the announcement, “for my family and my parents who came up north before and after the Mexican Revolution of 1910 — the honor is bigger than me.”
A poet of Chicano descent, the 66-year-old has spent just about his whole life on the West Coast. Born to a family of migrant farmworkers, Herrera bounced from tent to trailer for much of his youth in Southern California, eventually going on to study at UCLA and Stanford. Years later, he stepped out of the state to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, before — you guessed it — returning home to California.
His introduction to poetry, however, came much earlier — from his mother.
“She used to recite poems kind of spontaneously,” he told NPR’s Audie Cornish. “Something would move her, and then she would just break into a poem that she remembered from her childhood. My sister, my grandmother and my mom came up on the train to Juarez, Chihuahua [Mexico], and then across the border to El Paso, Texas, with those early rhymes and songs and poems.”
Along the way, Herrera has been prolific — so prolific, in fact, that few seem to agree just how many books the man has written. (Some say 30, others 29, and the Library of Congress says 28. We’ll just put the number at “dozens.”) Those works include poetry collections, novels in verse and plenty of children’s books. Across this body of work, the shadow of California, and his cultural heritage, has loomed large.
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