Juan Felipe 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 this year to serve, once more, as a “consultant in poetry.” Herrera’s role as U.S. Poet Laureate heralds the first time that a Mexican-American––and by extension 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.”
Rodrigo Toscano is an experimental poet, playwright, and labor activist. He is the author of several collections of poetry, among them: Explosion Rocks Springfield (Fence Books, 2016); Partisans (O Books, 1999); The Disparities (Green Integer, 2002); Collapsible Poetics Theater (Fence Books, 2008), which was chosen for the National Poetry Series; and Deck of Deeds (Counterpath Press, 2012). Poet and essayist Brian Blanchfield had these words to say in the PEN America about Toscano's Explosion Rocks Springfield, a work that "consists of eighty iterations of a kind of book-length system, a machine—as I read it—that runs class and labor and collective anxiety and grief through a single disastrous urban American incident, an event frequent enough to be generic, a lesser item in any news cycle. 'The Friday evening gas explosion in Springfield leveled a strip club next to a day care,' the journalistic title of each poem, resets the operations of an inquiry that moves in and around the news of a violent blast. These are five of the books’ poems, continually combustible at the limits of our untenable pressure." Five of Toscano's poems from Explosion Rocks Springfield are featured here. You can also head over to Puerto del Sol, a journal by MFA candidates at New Mexico State University, where a great and thoughtful interview with Toscano appears.
crónicas is a one-day workshop that will bring journalists and academics to Duke University on Friday, 15 April 2016. This small conference will serve as a launching-pad for these two professional bodies to meet, visualize, and strengthen their roles as intellectuals. The aim is to create a platform for a continuous and sustained collaboration between journalists and academics. The point of orientation––the subject for deliberation––is this simple premise: to forge a public engagement with the Latino and Latina world in the United States. What would an online forum with shared, side-by-side content written by journalists and academics look and read like?
The crónicas participants are: RUSSELL CONTRERAS, Associated Press and President of UNITY: Journalists for Diversity; NATHAN OLIVAREZ-GILES, The Wall Street Journal; JOHN MCKIERNAN-GONZÁLEZ, Texas State University; NANCY RAQUEL MIRABAL, University of Maryland; CLAUDIA MILIAN, Duke University; and BLANCA TORRES, The Seattle Times.
The workshop will endeavor to have a meaningful conversation and fashion a new practice of narrative inquiry by Latino and Latina intellectuals in the twenty-first century. Think of the many forms of reportage and traditions found in the journalistic and literary crónica (or chronicle), where the narration behind events can take many forms of expression, including essays, recollections, travel writing, memoir, and interviews. It is in this spirit––across disciplines, across angles of vision––that this forum is conceived as crónicas: where journalists + academics meet, a vehicle for reflecting about the cacophony of Latino and Latina experiences through new and dynamic models of discussion. The word “crónica” is doubtlessly a nod to the Latin American genre. But it is also an acknowledgement of U.S. Latino periodicals founded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as the Laredo-based La Crónica, which promoted in-depth coverage of issues affecting Texas Mexicans. Our titular crónicas, in plural form, gear toward a joint articulation by journalists and academics in search of a public form, an unrestricted forum.
PATRICIA ENGEL is the author of It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris (Grove Press, 2013) and Vida (Grove Press, 2010), which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway and Young Lions Fiction Awards, and named a Best Book of the Year by Barnes & Noble, NPR, and LA Weekly. Her fiction has appeared in The Atlantic, A Public Space, Boston Review, and Harvard Review, among other publications. She has received awards including the Boston Review Fiction Prize, and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Key West Literary Seminar, Hedgebrook, Ucross, Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony, and the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. Born to Colombian parents and raised in New Jersey, Patricia currently lives in Miami.
A PUBLIC LECTURE BY GINA PÉREZ
GINA M. PÉREZ, Associate Professor of Comparative American Studies at Oberlin College, will deliver a public lecture entitled "JROTC, Latina/o Youth, and American Dreams." Prof. Pérez is the author of Citizen, Student, Soldier: Latina/o Youth, JROTC, and the American Dream (New York University Press, 2015) and The Near Northwest Side Story: Migration, Displacement, and Puerto Rican Families (University of California Press, 2004). She is co-editor of Beyond El Barrio: Everyday Life in Latina/o America (New York University Press, 2010).
"JROTC, Latina/o Youth, and American Dreams" will focus on the experiences of working-class Latina/o youth in Northeast Ohio to explore the promises, hope, and aspirations of students in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC). The program’s appeal will be examined, as well as its limits as a vehicle for achieving social mobility, inclusion, and high regard in their school and local communities.
A PUBLIC LECTURE BY DESIRÉE MARTÍN
DESIRÉE MARTÍN is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Davis. Her book, Borderlands Saints: Secular Sanctity in Chicano/a and Mexican Culture (Rutgers University Press, 2013), is winner of the 2014 Latina/o Studies Section of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) Outstanding Book Award. She is currently working on a book-length project on cultural translation and the mistranslation and refusal of identity, tentatively titled “Untranslatable.” Prof. Martín earned her Ph.D. from Duke University in 2004.
Prof. Martín's talk will focus on photographer Yvonne Venegas’ series, María Elvia de Hank (2010), which portrays the daily life of the Hank family, Tijuana’s most powerful political dynasty. Venegas, Prof. Martín argues, shows an unexpected sort of dissonance, reifying and subverting Mexican racial, class and gender hierarchies.
LALO ALCARAZ is the creator of the syndicated daily comic strip, La Cucaracha, seen locally in the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers nationwide. Lalo is also a consulting producer and writer at Fox Television’s upcoming Seth MacFarlane executive produced animated show, Bordertown, which debuts in January 2016. He also just announced he is a Consultant for Pixar, and is on the team that is creating Coco, their animated movie around the Day of the Dead holiday in Mexico. A prolific political cartoonist, Lalo is winner of five Southern California Press Awards for Best Editorial Cartoon; produced editorial cartoons for The LA Weekly from 1992-2010; and creates nationally syndicated editorial cartoons in English and Spanish. He drew the Sonia Sotomayor themed “Lil’ Judge Lopez” cartoon that appeared in 60 Minutes, CBS News, and Univision, and hangs in Justice Sotomayor’s U.S. Supreme Court chambers. Lalo’s books include the New York Times bestseller A Most Imperfect Union, a U.S. history book with Ilan Stavans (2014); Latino USA: A Cartoon History, 15th Anniversary Edition (2013); Migra Mouse: Political Cartoons on Immigration (2005); and La Cucaracha (2004). He is also Jefe in Chief of the satirical website, Pocho.com, and co-host of KPFK Radio’s satirical talk show, “The Pocho Hour of Power.” Lalo recently taught illustration at Otis College of Fine Art and Design. He is a graduate of San Diego State University (BA in Art) and the University of California, Berkeley (Master’s in Architecture).
A PUBLIC LECTURE BY RUSSELL CONTRERAS
RUSSELL CONTRERAS, a reporter for the Associated Press in New Mexico, will speak on how Latinos are represented in the U.S. media. He covers immigration, minority affairs, and the American Southwest, and serves as President of UNITY: Journalists for Diversity. Contreras was selected as one of the "50 Top Latino Voices to Follow on Twitter," per the Huff Post's Latino Voices in 2012. He worked previously at the Boston Globe and the Albuquerque Journal, and teaches composition at the University of New Mexico-Valencia. Contreras's talk will tackle the polarities of public discourse, ranging from rejection/exclusion to valorization/inclusion and criminal/outsider to consumer/citizen.
A PUBLIC LECTURE BY MARISOL LEBRÓN
The talk will focus on how underground rap became an object of intense public scrutiny and police intervention during the mid-1990s as a result of its association with public housing and the presumed violent drug trade that existed there. Public concern over underground music eventually crescendoed with a series of police raids in record stores around the San Juan metropolitan area that resulted in the confiscation of hundreds of mixtapes on the grounds that underground rap was not only obscene but incited young people to promiscuity, violence, and drug use. Using the raids as a point of departure, I’m interested in how the policing of underground music, practitioners, and fans indexed a range of anxieties about drugs, violence, public space, race, and Puerto Rican identity that resulted in the intense surveillance and policing of sectors of young people who looked like raperos, and in turn looked like they might have resided in public housing or been involved with the drug trade.
MARISOL LEBRÓN is the 2015-2017 LSGS Postdoctoral Fellow. Her research centers on racial formation, spatial inequality, violence, and social activism in Latina/o and Puerto Rican communities.