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US’s First Latino/Chicano Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera Shares His Thoughts on Art, Community, Representation, and Finding One’s Voice

GUEST: Juan Felipe Herrera, US poet laureate for 2015-16, first Latino/Chicano to be awarded the honor.

The year 2015 was a huge year for racial justice in the US. Not just in the streets, but in the pages of books. Poetry books to be specific. It was the year that the US for the first time, chose a Poet Laureate for the nation who was Latino/Chicano.

Juan Felipe Herrera, who served as California’s poet laureate from 2012-2015, was chosen by the Library of Congress to represent the nation.

Born to migrant farm workers in California, Herrera is the author of 28 books of poetry, novels for young adults, and collections for children. He is the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the International Latino Book Award. His other honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, two Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Awards, and a PEN / Beyond Margins Award. He was also elected a Chancellor for the Academy of American Poets in 2011.

What sets Herrera apart from previous poets laureate is that he has no formal training in poetry. And, his political activism is a crucial part of his poetry and other works.

Mr. Herrera spoke to a huge audience at Cal State LA on Thursday January 28th at an event that went late into the night. Mr. Herrera was invited to Cal State LA to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the University’s Jean Burden Poetry Reading and the 10th anniversary of the Center for Contemporary Poetry and Poetics at Cal State LA.