The Library of Congress announced on Wednesday that Juan Felipe Herrera had been named as the Library’s 21st Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, for 2015-2016. In making the announcement, the current Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, said:
I see in Herrera’s poems the work of an American original—work that takes the sublimity and largesse of “Leaves of Grass” and expands upon it. His poems engage in a serious sense of play—in language and in image—that I feel gives them enduring power. 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.
Mr. Herrera, the first Poet Laureate of Hispanic descent, was born in 1948 in Fowler, California, but lived a nomadic childhood due to his parents being migrant farm workers, moving often and attending many different schools in Southern California. He did manage to attend UCLA, graduating in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in social anthropology. He then went on to Stanford University, where he received a master’s degree in social anthropology, and in 1990 received a Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Mr. Herrera has written over a dozen poetry collections, including Half the World in Light: New and Selected Poems, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the International Latino Book Award, and he has also been honored for his works in young adult and children’s literature, including the Américas Award for both Cinnamon Girl: letters found inside a cereal box and Crashboomlove: A Novel in Verse. He has also received the Independent Publisher Book Award for Featherless / Desplumado, the Ezra Jack Keats Award for Calling the Doves and two Pura Belpré Author Honor Awards, for Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes and Laughing Out Loud, I Fly. In addition, he has received two Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Awards, a PEN USA National Poetry Award, the PEN Oakland / Josephine Miles Award, a PEN / Beyond Margins Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Stanford University Chicano Fellows.
Here is a quick sample of one of Mr. Herrera’s poems, entitled “Five Directions to My House” from 2008’s Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems.
FIVE DIRECTIONS TO MY HOUSE
1. Go back to the grain yellow hills where the broken speak of elegance
2. Walk up to the canvas door, the short bed stretched against the clouds
3. Beneath the earth, an ant writes with the grace of a governor
4. Blow, blow Red Tail Hawk, your hidden sleeve—your desert secrets
5. You are there, almost, without a name, without a body, go now
6. I said five, said five like a guitar says six.
Congratulations, Mr. Herrerra, on being named the Library of Congress’ newest Poet Laureate!