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October 21, 2011 The Skirball Center for Performing Arts, NYU New York, NY From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Juan Felipe Herrera was born in Fowler, California, on December 27, 1948. The son of migrant farmers, Herrera moved often, living in trailers or tents along the roads of the San Joaquin Valley in Southern California. As a child, he attended school in a variety of small towns from San Francisco to San Diego. He began drawing cartoons while in middle school, and by high school was playing folk music by Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.

Herrera graduated from San Diego High in 1967, and was one of the first wave of Chicanos to receive an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) scholarship to attend UCLA. There, he became immersed in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, and began performing in experimental theater, influenced by Allen Ginsberg and Luis Valdez.

In 1972, Herrera received a BA in Social Anthropology from UCLA. He received a masters in Social Anthropology from Stanford in 1980, and went on to earn an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1990.

His interests in indigenous cultures inspired him to lead a formal Chicano trek to Mexican Indian villages, from the rain forest of Chiapas to the mountains of Nayarit. The experience greatly changed him as an artist. His work, which includes video, photography, theater, poetry, prose, and performance, has made Herrera a leading voice on the Mexican American and indigenous experience.

Herrera is the author of many collections of poetry, including Senegal Taxi (University of Arizona Press, 2013); Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2008), a recipient of the PEN/Beyond Margins Award; 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross The Border: Undocuments 1971–2007 (City Lights, 2007); and Crashboomlove (University of New Mexico Press, 1999), a novel in verse, which received the Americas Award.

His books of prose for children include: SkateFate (Rayo, 2011) Calling The Doves (Children's Book, 2001); Upside Down Boy (2006), which was adapted into a musical in New York City; and Cinnamon Girl: Letters Found Inside a Cereal Box (HarperCollins, 2005), which tells the tragedy of 9/11 through the eyes of a young Puerto Rican girl.

Ilan Stavans, the Mexican American essayist, has said: "There is one constant over the past three decades in Chicano literature and his name is Juan Felipe Herrera. Aesthetically, he leaps over so many canons that he winds up on the outer limits of urban song. And spiritually, he is deep into the quest that we all must begin before it is too late."

In a profile of Herrera in The New York Times, Stephen Burt wrote: "Many poets since the 1960s have dreamed of a new hybrid art, part oral, part written, part English, part something else: an art grounded in ethnic identity, fueled by collective pride, yet irreducibly individual too. Many poets have tried to create such an art: Herrera is one of the first to succeed."

Herrera has received fellowships and grants from the Breadloaf Writers' Conference, the California Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Stanford Chicano Fellows Program, and the University of California at Berkeley.

Over the past three decades, he has founded a number of performance ensembles, and has taught poetry, art, and performance in community art galleries and correctional facilities. He has taught at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and served as chair of the Chicano and Latin American Studies Department at CSU-Fresno.

Herrera currently holds the Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair in the Creative Writing Department at UC Riverside. He is also director of the Art and Barbara Culver Center for the Arts, a new multimedia space in downtown Riverside, California. He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2011.

He is the father of five children, and lives in Fresno, California, with his partner, the poet and performance artist, Margarita Robles.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Senegal Taxi (University of Arizona Press, 2013)
Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2008)
187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross The Border, Undocuments 1971-2007 (City Lights, 2007)
Notebooks of a Chile Verde Smuggler (University of Arizona Press, 2002)
Giraffe on Fire: Poems (2001)
Thunderweavers (University of Arizona Press, 2000)
Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream (University of Arizona Press, 1999)
CrashBoomLove: A Novel in Verse (University of New Mexico Press, 1999)
Loteria Cards & Fortune Poems (City Lights, 1999)
Mayan Drifter: Chicano Poet in the Lowlands of America (Temple University Press, 1997)
Love After the Riots (Curbstone, 1996)
Night Train to Tuxtla: New Stories and Poems (University of Arizona Press, 1994)
Memoria(s) from an Exile's Notebook of the Future (Santa Monica College, 1993)
Akrílica (Alcatraz Editions, 1989)
Facegames (Dragon Cloud, 1987)
Exiles of Desire (Arte Publico, 1985)
Poetry Rebozos of Love (Tolteca, 1974)

Children’s Literature

SkateFate (Rayo, 2011)
Cinnamon Girl: Letters Found Inside a Cereal Box (Harper Collins, Joanna Cotler Books / Tempest, 2005)
Downtown Boy (Scholastic, 2005)
Cilantro Girl / La Superniña del Cilantro (Children's Book Press, 2003)
Grandma & Me at the Flea / Los Meros Meros Remateros (Children’s Book Press 2002)
The Upside Down Boy/El Nino de Cabeza (Lee & Low Books, 2000)
Calling the Doves / Canto a Las Palomas (Children's Book Press, 1995)

Everyday We Get More Illegal

Juan Felipe Herrera, 1948

Yet the peach tree 
still rises
& falls with fruit & without
birds eat it the sparrows fight
our desert       
 
            burns with trash & drug
it also breathes & sprouts
vines & maguey
 
laws pass laws with scientific walls
detention cells   husband
                           with the son
                        the wife &
the daughter who
married a citizen   
they stay behind broken slashed
 
un-powdered in the apartment to
deal out the day
             & the puzzles
another law then   another
Mexican
          Indian
                      spirit exile
 
 
migration                     sky
the grass is mowed then blown
by a machine  sidewalks are empty
clean & the Red Shouldered Hawk
peers
down  — from
an abandoned wooden dome
                       an empty field
 
it is all in-between the light
every day this     changes a little
 
yesterday homeless &
w/o papers                  Alberto
left for Denver a Greyhound bus he said
where they don’t check you
 
walking working
under the silver darkness
            walking   working
with our mind
our life
 

Copyright © by Juan Felipe Herrera. Used with the permission of the author.

Copyright © by Juan Felipe Herrera. Used with the permission of the author.

Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera

Born in Fowler, California, on December 27, 1948, Herrera is director of the Art and Barbara Culver Center for the Arts, a multimedia space in downtown Riverside, California. He was elected an Academy Chancellor in 2011.

by this poet

poem

I sit and meditate—my dog licks her paws
on the red-brown sofa
so many things somehow
it all is reduced to numbers letters figures
without faces or names only jagged lines
across the miles half-shadows
going into shadow-shadow then destruction         the infinite light

here and

poem

Jackrabbits, green onions & witches stew

Three dollars & upside down lemons & you

Dinky planet on a skateboard of dynamite

Oh, what to do, chile peppers, Mrs. Oops

Dr. What, Mr. Space Station unscrewed

The Redbook of Ants says you better run

No sireee, LOL,

poem

You were having a stroke - i
did not grasp what was going on you
standing almost half ways up half
ways down the colors what were they
i was frozen both us us staring
woman with parasol behind me
are you drunk she said facing
you and the deli behind you      you
leaned

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