Juan Felipe Herrera, UCLA alumnus and recently retired UC Riverside professor whose poetry chronicled the bittersweet lives, travails and contributions of Mexican Americans, was announced today as the 21st U.S. poet laureate.
“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,” said Herrera in a statement announcing his one-year appointment. “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 son of migrant farm workers, Herrera was born in Fowler, California in 1948. Herrera earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from UCLA in 1972 and went on to earn a master’s degree in social anthropology from Stanford University and a master of fine arts from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. A writer of more than two dozen books, he retired in March as a professor of creative writing.
UC President Janet Napolitano said of Herrera being named the United States Poet Laureate Consultant of Poetry: “Juan Felipe Herrera did the University of California proud as a student and professor, he did California proud as the state’s poet laureate, and he’ll do the nation proud as America’s poet laureate.”
Herrera, who is the first Latino named to the position, will be the keynote speaker at one of UC Riverside’s seven commencement ceremonies. He will participate in the 2015 National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5. His inaugural reading as poet laureate will take place on Sept. 15. Herrera’s one-year term was announced by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.
Named by Gov. Jerry Brown as California’s top poet from 2012-14, Herrera traveled throughout the state, encouraging the inner poet in children and adults, from urban schools to rural community fiestas, from university poetry readings to children’s museums.
Read a longer version of this story at UCR Today.