Juan Felipe Herrera, a former UCR creative writing professor, has been named the United States Poet Laureate for 2015. During the two-year tenure as Poet Laureate, Herrera will serve as the nation’s official poet and seek to encourage the reading and writing of poetry across the country.
Herrera also has the distinction of being the first Latino to be selected for the position since its establishment in 1947. Other famous figures who have been appointed to this position include Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop and Billy Collins, who received his Ph.D. in English from UCR.
“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,” Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said in a press statement. The Librarian of Congress, former laureates and other experts in the field of poetry assist in making the appointment.
Herrera, who retired in March of this year, will begin his position on September 15, by delivering his first inaugural reading. “This appointment as poet laureate of the United States wouldn’t have been possible without being at UC Riverside, the California Arts Council and Gov. Brown,” Herrera said in a press release. “We are all poets, and this is for all of us.” In addition to his time as a professor at UCR, Herrera also served as the California Poet Laureate in 2012.
The former professor has been involved with the UC since an undergraduate at UCLA and has received praise from numerous officials and students among UCR and the UC system in general. “Juan Felipe Herrera did the University of California proud as a student and professor, he did California proud as the state’s poet laureate, and he’ll do the nation proud as America’s poet laureate,” UC President Janet Napolitano stated in a press release.
Yesenia Padilla, a third-year ethnic studies major stated, “As a young writer myself, Juan Felipe makes all the goals I have set for myself appear less like a dream and instead more of a future to aspire for. Like many others, I feel very prideful to know someone who was also born of Mexican immigrants and lived the working class life was able to accomplish so much.”
Padilla further elaborated on the impact that the former professor has had on many students on campus, through events organized by campus departments such as Chicano Student Programs (CSP). “Even prior to his honor, Juan Felipe has always been an idol of many Latino students on campus,” Padilla stated
In a previous interview with the Highlander regarding his appointment as the California Poet Laureate, Herrera spoke on how the death of his father in high school started his writing career. “I lived downtown; I had no friends around me. Not that those were the core reasons, but they were part of my environment as a writer. So I had solitude to write or paint. I had open space and open time,” Herrera explained.
Regarding the impact of poetry, Herrera stated, “Perhaps one of the most accessible diamonds on Earth is poetry. You can easily pick it up and easily wear it and easily give it away. It’s very precious, but you can only find it because it’s yours.”