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U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera speaks at NHCC

Juan Felipe Herrera will be a part of two events at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

Juan Felipe Herrera will be a part of two events at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Juan Felipe Herrera has blazed trails his entire life.

From growing up as the child of immigrants, Herrera is the 21st Poet Laureate of the United States. He’s also the first Chicano laureate to hold the position.

Herrera will be speaking about his role as Poet Laureate and his White House project titled “Casa de Colores.” He will also discuss formative influences on his writing and teaching as well as read from his published writings during two different events at the National Hispanic Cultural Center on Monday, Dec. 7.

“Having an opportunity to share him with the students and the community is great,” says Adán Ávilos, assistant professor of Latin American and U.S. Latino film at the University of New Mexico. “People need to see that we support each other and our community.”

Irene Vasquez, director of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UNM, says bringing Herrera to Albuquerque is a big deal.

“He’s a world-class speaker and he has a deep history with the Chicano/a movement,” she says. “This is a signature event for our department and we’re sharing one of the best.”

Herrera’s experiences as the child of migrant farmers have strongly shaped his work, such as the children’s book “Calling the Doves,” which won the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award in 1997.

Community and art have always been part of what has driven Herrera, beginning in the mid-’70s, when he was director of the Centro Cultural de la Raza, an occupied water tank in Balboa Park in California that had been converted into an arts space for the community.

His publications include 14 collections of poetry, prose, short stories, young adult novels and picture books for children with 21 books in total in the last decade.

“We’re very excited to have this opportunity for the community and students,” Vasquez says. “Juan Felipe has worked hard to get where he’s at. We’re looking forward to see how he interacts with the students and critique their writing.”