“40 Stories” Spotlight: Juan Felipe Herrera

To celebrate our 40th Anniversary, we asked forty of our amazing grantees, past and present, to tell the story of their work and their relationship with the California Arts Council. Throughout this anniversary year, we’ll be sharing excerpts from our special publication 40 Stories, 40 Years here on the blog. You can view the complete collection at this link.

Editor’s Note: This week, we’re proud to feature a story from Juan Felipe Herrera, who was just reappointed  for a second year as United States Poet Laureate. 


Juan Felipe Herrera, Fresno

By Juan Felipe Herrera, United States Poet Laureate

Year of first CAC Grant: 1976

Dreams Fulfilled

The four grants that I received from 1976–1987 allowed me to fulfill my dreams as a community poet, artist and arts catalyst. My first grant, for the Expresión Library project, saved me – like all of the California Arts Council grants. My life has been devoted to the arts and to the community; in 1976, my financial resources were few, if any. And my one chance to survive financially was through a CAC grant. I organized a city and county-wide set of exhibits, forums and readings. This gave artists public space to set their works into motion. The next step was a new literary form, at least in San Diego.

A New Poetics

Each of my CAC grants propelled me, urged me, fascinated me, encouraged me and expanded my sense of the powers, compassions, and condorwingspan reach of poetry in the community. Each project was new. Each outcome was inspirational. Each step was a necessary move on the path to a new poetics and self.

Walking to a Crossroads

From 2012 to 2014 I was the California Poet Laureate. Today, I am the United States Poet Laureate. My current project is called Casa de Colores, House of Colors. You can view it online at the Library of Congress website. It is an outcome of many years of experimentation and trials and new findings – and I give great credit to the CAC for walking me to this new crossroads.

JUAN FELIPE HERRERA__EN_8607
Juan Felipe Herrera on the floor of the California State Senate. July 6, 2015. Photo by Lorie Shelley. 

JFHJUAN FELIPE HERRERA The son of migrant farm workers, Herrera was educated at UCLA and Stanford University, and he earned his M.F.A from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In addition to publishing more than a dozen collections of poetry, Herrera has written short stories, young adult novels, and children’s literature. In 2012, Herrera was named California’s Poet Laureate, and the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2015. He has won the Hungry Mind Award of Distinction, the Focal Award, two Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Awards, and a PEN West Poetry Award. www.juanfelipepoet.com  (Photos by Ted Catanzaro unless otherwise noted)

View the complete 40 Stories, 40 Years collection at this link.

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