Her­rera named first Latino US poet lau­re­ate

The China Post - - ARTS - BY BRETT ZONGKER

A son of mi­grant farm work­ers in Cal­i­for­nia, Juan Felipe Her­rera will be the next U.S. poet in chief.

The Li­brary of Congress an­nounced Wed­nes­day the ap­point­ment of Her­rera as the na­tion’s 21st poet lau­re­ate for 2015 through 2016, be­gin­ning in Septem­ber. Her­rera, 66, whose par­ents em­i­grated from Mex­ico, will be the na­tion’s first Latino poet lau­re­ate since the po­si­tion was cre­ated in 1936.

Li­brar­ian of Congress James Billing­ton said he sees in Her­rera’s po­ems the work of an Amer­i­can orig­i­nal.

“His po­ems en­gage in a se­ri­ous sense of play — in lan­guage and in im­age — that I feel gives them en­dur­ing power,” Billing­ton said in a writ­ten state­ment. “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.”

Some of the works Her­rera said he most en­joyed writ­ing were cap­tured in “Half the World in Light,” a book of po­ems lauded for his ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and for doc­u­ment­ing his Chi­cano ex­pe­ri­ence in Amer­ica.

Her­rera was born in 1948 in Fowler, Cal­i­for­nia. His fam­ily of mi­grant work­ers moved of­ten, at times living in tents and trail­ers along roads. His fa­ther learned English by pay­ing fel­low work­ers pen­nies to teach him each new word.

Her­rera said he is hum­bled and over­whelmed to be named U.S. poet lau­re­ate and to be the first of Latino de­scent.

The lau­re­ate po­si­tion in­volves craft­ing po­etry projects and broad­en­ing the au­di­ence for po­etry. The 2013-2014 poet lau­re­ate, Natasha Trethewey, launched a se­ries of re­ports from lo­ca­tions na­tion­wide for a “PBS NewsHour” po­etry se­ries to ex­plore so­ci­etal is­sues.

For his term, Her­rera is en­vi­sion­ing a pro­gram with the Li­brary of Congress that he calls Casa de Colores — House of Colors — to in­clude peo­ple of ev­ery color and cul­tural back­ground. He may host voice en­sem­bles with young peo­ple to en­gage with po­etry, per­haps tak­ing a poem by Walt Whit­man and then hav­ing a group write a poem to­gether to per­form in spo­ken word or with mu­sic. Or per­haps the public could con­trib- ute to a na­tional writ­ing project by mak­ing sub­mis­sions on­line.

“Yes, I am the first Latino poet lau­re­ate in the United States. But I’m also here for ev­ery­one and from ev­ery­one. My voice is made by ev­ery­one’s voices,” Her­rera said.

At the same time, he said, he also wants to en­cour­age more young Latino stu­dents to write and read and ben­e­fit from the Li­brary of Congress’ re­sources.

“You know, we speak about un­der­stand­ing each other, hav­ing those con­ver­sa­tions na­tion­wide — cul­tur­ally, his­tor­i­cally — and yet there’s a lot of gaps,” he said. “So I want to as­sist with closing the gap of know­ing about and hear­ing about our Latino com­mu­ni­ties in terms of lit­er­a­ture, in terms of writ­ing.

“And I want our young Lati­nos and Lati­nas to write their hearts out and ex­press their hearts out and let us all lis­ten to each other.”

Her­rera grew up speak­ing Span­ish in his early years and be­came ashamed to speak at school, so he shut down, he said. But he even­tu­ally found his voice through join­ing choirs in mid­dle school and high school.

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