Former U.S. Poet Laureate to Visit La Casita

Portrait of Juan Felipe Herrera in front of a colorful mural

Juan Felipe Herrera, the first Latino to be appointed Poet Laureate of the United States (2015-2017), will offer two creative writing workshops at La Casita during a visit to Syracuse in April. Workshops will be held April 3 and April 5, from 5:30-7:00pm each evening. Herrera is the author of several children’s books, often bilingual and autobiographical, one of which inspired the creation of a mural at La Casita nearly ten years ago.

In addition to these workshops, Herrera will offer a poetry reading at La Casita April 4 from 6:00-8:00pm as part of Punto de Contacto-Point of Contact’s Cruel April Poetry Reading Series, commemorating National Poetry Month.

Cover of the book "Calling the Doves" by Juan Felipe Herrera
“Calling the Doves” by Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera was raised by his farmworker parents as they traveled roads of the Central Valley of California and California at large. His mother taught him to read in Spanish from a broken primer she found at a Good Will store. She was always singing and taught him ballads of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and songs and rhymes she learned in an orphanage. And she bought him National Geographic magazines from Safeway. Every day she challenged him to improvise words as she called them out to him, and she told him stories of the larger family as she opened her mother’s photo album. Later, she advised him to learn to play the guitar so it could be his friend.

After graduating from San Diego High School, Juan Felipe received an EOP, Affirmative Action scholarship to UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) and majored in Anthropology. After graduating, he attended Stanford University and followed the same field. He loves reading about cultures and peoples at large, Photography and most of all art and poetry. He is also an artist. To date he has published over 35 books. Before his appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate, he was also appointed California Poet Laureate in 2012. His recent awards include the Ruth Lilly Lifetime Achievement award and the Robert Frost Medal. His most recent children’s book is titled I am the Future. Herrera has four honorary doctorate degrees, and he says he is most interested in Humanity, Peace, Unity, and Kindness for all.

Colorful mural
Mural by youth at La Casita

Shortly after La Casita opened in 2011, Juan Felipe Herrera’s first children’s book Calling the Doves / El canto de las palomas became the inspiration for a mural created by the children in La Casita’s dual language literacy program. The story is an autobiographical tale about Herrera’s upbringing in a migrant farm working family, and the artwork his story inspired still adorns the walls of La Casita today.

La Casita is proud to partner with Punto de Contacto-Point of Contact to make this special event possible. This program is funded in part by Syracuse University, by Poets & Writers, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. Additional funding comes from Syracuse University’s Latino-Latin American Studies Program, Environmental Storytelling CNY, and by SUNY ESF’s Writing Program.