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June 10, 2015

Juan Felipe Herrera named first Latino U.S. poet laureate

The son of Mexican migrant workers, Herrera's work is lauded for its experimentation and cultural perspective

The Library of Congress on Wednesday announced the appointment of Juan Felipe Herrera as the next U.S. poet laureate, making him the first Latino to hold the post since it was established in 1936.

Born to a family of migrant workers in Fowler, California, Herrera, 66, will succeed Charles Wright in September and assume the responsibility to craft poetry projects that help broaden the audience of the art form while promoting the resources of the Library of Congress, the Huffington Post reports.

Herrera's body of work, including "Half of the World in Light," was recognized by Librarian of Congress James Billington for its originality and spirit of linguistic play, along with his powerful use of enduring imagery documenting the Chicano experience in America.

"Yes, I am the first Latino poet laureate in the United States. But I'm also here for everyone and from everyone. My voice is made by everyone's voices," Herrera said, adding that he does seek specifically to encourage young Latinos. "You know, we speak about understanding each other, having those conversations nationwide — culturally, historically — and yet there's a lot of gaps. So I want to assist with closing the gap of knowing about and hearing about our Latino communities in terms of literature, in terms of writing. And I want our young Latinos and Latinas to write their hearts out and express their hearts out and let us all listen to each other."

One idea Herrera envisions is a program called "Casa de Colores" (House of Colors), a series of voice ensembles that would draw from youth of diverse backgrounds and incorporate the study of literary classics, writing exercises and even music composition. Another possibility is a national writing project that would use an online submission platform.

Herrera, who served as poet laureate of California from 2012-2015, earned graduate degrees from Stanford and the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop. In March, he retired from teaching creative writing at the University of California and is now a visiting professor in ethnic studies at the University of Washington.

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