It’s official: As of yesterday, California finally has its first Hispanic poet laureate in Juan Felipe Herrera.
Herrera, a graduate of Stanford University, has written 28 books in genres ranging from short fiction and young adult novels, to poetry and children’s books. He currently holds the Tomas Rivera Endowed Chair in the Department of Creative Writing at UC Riverside.
Now 63, Herrera has earned such fine distinctions as a Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry, National Endowment for the Arts writers’ fellowships, California Arts Council grants, and the Breadloaf Fellowship in Poetry, among others.
His 2008 poetry collection “Half of the World in Light” won a National Book Critic’s circle award in poetry. This book, like Herrera’s own life, lands smack in the middle of the tension between U.S. and Latino cultures, and highlights the struggle of living in a new land while remembering the old. Book Critic’s Circle board member Rigoberto Gonzales gave high praise for Herrera’s book, noting that the poems will “dance” for people of any culture:
“Indeed, Herrera inhabits, critiques and re-imagines the borderlands between Spanish and English, barrio-speak and academic philology, Mesoamerican myth and popular culture, to give readers a unique and original lens through which to view contemporary society in the Americas.”
Herrera is a real master and deserves honor. What’s amazing, with California’s large Hispanic population, is that it took this many years for someone like Herrera to get the California poet laureate appointment.