BRENTWOOD—Juan Felipe Herrera, 66, a graduate from UCLA, the former poet laureate of California, is now the poet Laureate of the United States. The Library of Congress bestowed the honor upon Herrera on Wednesday, June 10, making him the first Chicano poet laureate in United States history.

The son of migrant farm workers, Herrera grew up bilingual and traveled throughout California with his parents, a key aspect of his childhood that he cites as having a profound affect on his work. He says that poems are “a way to achieve a life without boundaries.”

 Juan Felipe Herrera
Juan Felipe Herrera

He was accepted to UCLA, where after graduating with the assistance of the Educational Opportunity Program for disadvantaged students, Herrera attended Stanford to get his Master’s Degree in social anthropology.

He later traveled to the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop for his MFA. He went on to become a professor at University of California-Riverside where he is currently professor emeritus. The school’s literature and writing programs are touted as some of the best in the state. He was also named the poet laureate of California in 2012, a position which concluded last year.

The Chicano poet lives with his wife in Fresno. The position of poet laureate has few real responsibilities and Herrera, now retired from teaching, is largely free to do what he wants. As poet laureate, Herrera joins the ranks of such famous names as Robert Frost, Rita Dove, and Kay Ryan, all who held the position previously.