The 18th Annual ASU Writers Conference in Honor
of Elmer Kelton
Featured writer: Juan Felipe Herrera
The son of migrant farm workers, Juan Felipe Herrera is known for chronicling the bittersweet lives of Mexican-Americans—their challenges, travails, joys, and contributions to American culture and the American scene.
He has published poetry, prose, theater, children’s books and young adult novels. His many distinguished collections of poetry include Senegal Taxi (2013); Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (2008); 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross The Border: Undocuments 1971–2007 (2007); Border-Crosser with a Lambourghini Dream (1999); and Crashboomlove (1999). Among his prose works are SkateFate (2011); Calling The Doves (2001); Upside Down Boy (2006); and Cinnamon Girl: Letters Found Inside a Cereal Box (2005), which views the events of Sept. 11, 2001 through the perspective of a Puerto Rican girl.
Herrera’s many awards include a PEN/Beyond Margin’s Award and National Book Critics’ Circle Award for Half of the World in Light, A Guggenheim Fellowship, a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Friends of Children and Literature (FOCAL) Award and Ezra Jack Keats Award for his bilingual memoir, Calling The Doves/El Canto De Las Palomas. He is poet laureate of California.
He holds a Bachelor of Arts in social anthropology from UCLA, a Master of Arts in social anthropology from Stanford University, and a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from the University of Iowa. He currently teaches creative writing at the University of California-Riverside. A master teacher, recipient of the University of California at Berkeley Regents Fellowship, he encourages students to cultivate the power of their own voices: “The most important thing is your voice. And my message to you is you have a beautiful voice. Tienen una voz hermosa.”
To learn more about Juan Felipe Herrera and his writing, visit his website.
“Your friends, and your associates, and the people around you, and the environment that you live in, and the speakers around you—the speakers around you—and the communicators around you, are the poetry makers. If your mother tells you stories, she is a poetry maker. If your father says stories, he is a poetry maker. If your grandma tells you stories, she is a poetry maker. And that’s who forms our poetics.”
“Typically, I write in English first. Then I translate into Spanish. But then I look at the Spanish and see the different flavors it adds, so I translate back into English. It keeps going back and forth until I have two related but stand-alone stories in the two languages. There’s something, then, for the monolingual English reader. And there’s something for the monolingual Spanish reader. But for kids who know both English and Spanish, the result is stereo because they can see how the story in one language comments on the story in the other language. Really, more than bilingual, the experience is interlingual.”