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In 2015, Juan Felipe Herrera was appointed the 21st United States Poet Laureate, the first Mexican American to hold the position. In his statement of choice, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said Herrara’s poems “contain Whitman-esque multitudes that champion voices, traditions and histories, as well as a cultural perspective” that serve to illuminate our larger American identity. Herrera grew up in California as the son to migrant farmers, which he has commented strongly shaped much of his work. A Washington Post article tells the story that “As a child, Herrera learned to love poetry by singing about the Mexican Revolution with his mother, a migrant farmworker in California. Inspired by her spirit, he has spent his life crossing borders, erasing boundaries and expanding the American chorus.
Herrera is the author of thirty books, including collections of poetry, prose, short stories, young adult novels and picture books for children. His collections of poetry include Every Day We Get More Illegal (2020), Notes of the Assemblage (2015), Senegal Taxi (2013); Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (2008), a recipient of the PEN/Beyond Margins Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award; 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross The Border: Undocuments 1971-2007 (2007); and Crashboomlove: A Novel in Verse (1999), which received the Americas Award. In 2014, he released the nonfiction work Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes, which showcases twenty Hispanic and Latino American men and women who have made outstanding contributions to the arts, politics, science, humanitarianism, and athletics—a magnificent homage to those who have shaped our nation. His book Jabberwalking (2018), is a children’s book focused on turning your wonder at the world around you into weird, wild, incandescent poetry.
“The fire that appears again and again in Herrera’s poetry exists to illuminate, to make beautiful, to purify.” —New York Times Book Review
Throughout U.S. history, immigration has played a central role in enriching the country's development, yet migrants have repeatedly faced discrimination and controversy over their presence. Forced removal of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands and of enslaved Africans from their homelands to the Americas has cast a long shadow over U.S. history. These stories form part of a global narrative in which migration has been a constant, often fraught component of human history. The Hall Center for the Humanities' 2020-2021 speaker series, MIGRATION STORIES, features a range of humanities scholars and writers whose work on immigration, especially the stories of those whose lives have included migration, highlights the continued significance and relevance of the humanities to our contemporary world.
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