By ADEDAYO PERKOVICH, age 11

"When we speak poetically, or write a poem about what's going on, a real difficult issue that's facing our communities, people listen," Herrera told the <em>Guardian</em>. PHOTO: Steve Rhodes
“When we speak poetically, or write a poem about what’s going on, a real difficult issue that’s facing our communities, people listen,” Herrera told the Guardian. PHOTO: Steve Rhodes

This June, Juan Felipe Herrera was appointed the first Chicano U.S. poet laureate by the Library of Congress. Poets laureate encourage Americans to read and write poetry, and invite them to appreciate its value. Former laureates include Rita Dove, the first African American laureate, and Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black Pulitzer Prize winner.

Born in 1948 to a family of Mexican migrant workers, Herrera had an early interest in poetry. His mother “used to recite poems kind of spontaneously,” Herrera told National Public Radio. “Something would move her, and then she would just break into a poem she remembered from her childhood.” His poetry addresses his cultural heritage and life in California. In his poem “Half-Mexican,” he talks about the two different sides of his identity. The poem “comes out of not being this or being that,” but living in “the very creative space that’s in between,” he explained to the New York Times. One of Herrera’s most noted books is Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems, published in 2008. He has written young adult novels, children’s books and short stories.

Herrera has taught poetry in prisons and created an anti-bullying project. Now, he plans on using the resources of the Library of Congress to reach out to young poets from diverse communities. “Poetry is one of the largest, most beautiful, most intimate and most effective ways of participating,” Herrera told the Guardian. “When we speak poetically, or write a poem about what’s going on, a real difficult issue that’s facing our communities, people listen.”