Recently appointed United States Poet Laureate and UA Press author Juan Felipe Herrera lends a poetic voice to the subject of immigration and the Latino/a community.
Herrera will take up the position in fall 2015 and is the first Latino to become the U.S. Poet Laureate. His works reflect issues in the Latino/a communities.
“I’m moved by my family’s experience, and I’m mostly moved by the experience of people. So that’s why I write about it," Herrera said. "But I just do my best.”
According to Kristen Buckles, acquiring editor for UA Press, Herrera talks about his roots, including his parents’ work as migrant farmers.
The newly designated poet laureate has published seven works of literature in the UA Press’s “Camino del Sol” series, including “Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream” (1998) and “Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems” (2008). His latest book of poetry, “Senegal Taxi” (2013), tells the story of three children attempting to flee Darfur.
Herrera has worked with UA Press since the 1990s. "It’s top-of-the-line, and it’s a pioneering press, and we appreciate that as Latino writers," he said. "We deeply, deeply appreciate it because it’s given Latina and Latino writers a lot of presence throughout the United States, and a lot of writers a fountain where they can express their art, and a press where they can look to and refer to."
Along with his poetry collections, the author’s other works include children’s books, young-adult literature and performance art.
“He will make a poetry lover out of anyone,” Buckles said.
While the exact number of books Herrera has written is a subject of debate—as some reputable sources claim 30, while others claim 29, and still others claim 28—what is certain is that he has received a number of prestigious awards, such as the National Book Critics Circle Award, conferred to him in 2008.
Tom Lutz, editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Review of Books a long-time friend and colleague of Herrera, described him as a “24-hour poet.”
“He doesn’t stop,” Lutz said. “He hardly ever speaks in prose, and even that is poetic.”
In 2012, the author was selected as the Poet Laureate of California, where Herrera represented what poetry can mean for all types of communities. His public work as California poet laureate sought to bring people together through the use of poetry.
“A lot of people are being moved, or are suffering, or are having difficulties or facing great challenges, and no one is talking about them—and that’s where the poet comes in," Herrera said. "We’re like a secret squad that wears funny colored clothes. And [when] no one is talking about something, then you’ll see us come out with a poem in our hands.”
On his website, Herrera encourages the submission of poems on various topics, from inspiring global unity to the subject of cancer. Among these projects is a section titled “Show Me Your Papers,” in which the poet laureate asks that individuals meditate upon the notion of paper and paperwork in their submissions.
Herrera is one of several poet laureates who have delivered readings at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. Since the 1960s, the center has attracted a wide assortment of famous poets and authors, such as Robert Frost and Raymond Carver.
“It’s always exciting for us when there is a new poet laureate,” said Tyler Meier, the center’s executive director. “Our mission is to encourage a diverse and robust literary culture.”
Herrera said he hopes his works continue to motivate people to unify.
“It’s just good for all of us to know about the many issues and challenges that face all of our communities,” Herrera said. “Any community has amazing gifts, so open doors are much better than closed doors.”