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US announces Juan Felipe Herrera as first Hispanic poet laureate

Juan Felipe Herrera was announced as the next US poet laureate by the Library of Congress. The 66-year-old son of farm workers from Mexico is the first Hispanic person to hold the honorary post.

The Library of Congress confirmed that author Juan Felipe Herrera was going to be the 21st writer to receive the prestigious title of poet laureate. With backing from the library, Herrera will be put in charge of promoting poetry in the United States for 12 months as of September.

"This is a mega-honor for me, for my family and my parents, who came up north before and after the Mexican Revolution of 1910. The honor is bigger than me," Herrera said in respons to the announcement. He added that he was humbled to be named US poet laureate and to be the first of Latino descent.

From small beginnings to academic career

Herrera was born in 1948 in Fowler, California. His family of migrant workers moved often, at times living in tents and trailers along roads. His father is said to have learned English by paying fellow workers pennies to teach him each new word.

Herrera focused on his education throughout his life and managed to graduate from the University of California in Los Angeles in 1972 with a degree in social anthropology. He later earned a Master's Degree in the same field from Stanford University. He has explored various artforms within poetry and has been called "an American original."

An inspiration to the young

Having spent his life in California, Herrera was named poet laureate of the state of California in 2012, where he has a long history of engaging in social initiatives. His outreach focuses on inspiring younger generations to appreciate the power of language.

"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," Herrera said.

Herrera mentioned that he was conceiving a program with the help of the Library of Congress, which he referred to as "Casa de Colores" - "House of Colors." It is intended to include people of every color and cultural background and is set to be the highlight of his term as the US "poetry ambassador."

The prestigious position was first created in 1936, and previous poets laureate included Robert Frost, Natasha Trethewey and Stanley Kunitz. The laureate position involves crafting literary projects that broaden the audience for poetry.

ss/bk (AFP, AP)