Highlights from Juan Felipe Herrera's poetry reading at Duke University, sponsored by the Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South, on 17 November 2016.
Herrera is the twenty-first Poet Laureate of the United States. He was first selected for this honor on 10 June 2015, and was reappointed in 2016 to serve as a “consultant in poetry.” Herrera’s role as National Poet Laureate heralds the first time that a Mexican-American––and by extension, a Latino––author has been recognized with the country’s highest honor in poetry since this post was created in 1936. A poet, photographer, anthropologist, cartoonist, and multimedia artist, Herrera is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, Stanford University, and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He is the author of thirty books in a wide array of genres, including collections of poetry, prose, short stories, young adult novels, and picture books for children. Herrera also served as the Poet Laureate of California from 2012–2014 and was elected as a chancellor for the Academy of American Poets in 2011. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and two Fellowships in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), among many others. He has won, as well, awards from PEN USA; PEN American Center; the Smithsonian Institute; and the National Book Critics Circle, to briefly enumerate a handful of his accolades. The position of U.S. poet-in-chief involves crafting projects and broadening audiences for poetry. During his laureateship’s first term, Herrera embarked on a nation-wide poetry project entitled “La Casa de Colores” (“The House of Colors”). Herewith, Americans were (and still are) invited to contribute a verse to an “epic poem” about the U.S. experience. Herrera’s vision essentially asked poets and nonpoets––in a word, the nation––for a poem. As the Library of Congress website notes, the aim of “La Casa de Colores” is to have “a house for all voices [where] we will feed the hearth and heart of our communities with creativity and imagination. And we will stand together in times of struggle and joy.” “La Casa de Colores” is updated monthly. The project champions multiple voices and histories and highlights a new theme each month about an aspect of American life, values, or culture. This undertaking also allows, as Herrera told NBC News, for his poetic voice to be “made by everyone’s voices.”
Read the Chronicle's coverage of Herrera's event at Duke: "U.S. Poet Laureate's Work Focuses on Multiculturalism, Social Issues."