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Literary festival hosts second author

By Erin Stanton
On February 21, 2012

  • Juan Felipe Herrera passionately described his background as a writer at Tuesday’s event.


Juan Felipe Herrera, a vibrant, upbeat and passionate poet, spoke to an audience of faculty members and students on Tuesday at the second event of the 2012 Literary Festival. 

This is the English department's 14th year of hosting the festival.  Professor Alan Drew organizes and serves as the director for the annual events.  

Each writer that speaks during the Literary Festival visits Drew's classes at the University before the event. 

The students in these classes all read the specific author's writing before they arrive on campus. 

Herrera read some of his new work for the honors poetry class here at the University. The students help him brainstorm ways to improve his poems. During his presentation, Herrera thanked the students and was very grateful for their input. 

Herrera, who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley in California, started writing a young age, explaining to the students that he first became interested when he had to recite poetry for his sixth grade class. 

Although he cannot explain exactly how he got into writing, Herrera claims that poetry saved his life. 

"Without it, I would have exploded," Herrera says. Poetry gave Herrera a way to articulate things that he could not before. 

One of Herrera's most well-known pieces of literature includes a book of poems entitled "187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross the Border." 

Herrera speaks both Spanish and English and explained how this has an impact on his poems, some of which are written in both languages. 

"When I started writing, I started by being silent, because I didn't know how to speak English," Herrera says. Herrera also reminisces about how he is so lucky to have the opportunity to learn and write in English. 

"In 1902, my father learned English by buying words for pennies," Herrera says. 

In addition to poetry, Herrera is a teacher, writes children's books and enjoys theater and music. 

One of his children's books was even adapted to a musical in New York City.

Herrera currently holds the title of Tomas Rivera Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at the University of California at Riverside.Herrera lives his life with a positive outlook and a willingness to learn. 

"Whatever I have learned, I learned from everyone in my life," Herrera says. "My vision is to embrace everyone, all of you, and as many people as I can, even myself. Poetry is a grand vision and a microvision."  

When Herrera presented his poetry, he read his work out loud while a slideshow played of black and white pictures of his travels while he was an undergraduate student at UCLA. This is also the time that Herrera led the first Chicano trek to Mexican-Indian endangered cultures. 

The Literary Festival will continue throughout the Spring semester with three more authors coming to speak, including Hugo Hamilton (March 13), Tea Obreht (April 12) and William Kennedy (April 26). 

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