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California’s New Poet Laureate Visits SJSU

By Sarah Kyo, Public Affairs Assistant

Man on right performs poetry as a trio on left plays music. Photo by Sarah Kyo.

California's new poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, right, performs his poetry as a trio plays music at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library (photo by Sarah Kyo).

“Part Walt Whitman, part Pablo Neruda, part John Lennon.”

This is how Alan Soldofsky, director of creative writing and professor of English and comparative literature, introduced poet Juan Felipe Herrera at a Center for Literary Arts reading April 4.

This event at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library marked the first poetry reading of California’s latest poet laureate, who is also the state’s first Latino poet laureate. Gov. Jerry Brown named Herrera to the position on March 21.

In addition to Soldofsky, Herrera’s nephew Emilio also introduced the poet as “my mentor, my guitar teacher and my best friend.”

A trio of musicians set the mood of each poetic piece by playing a variety of instruments. Throughout the evening, Herrera interacted with the musicians, as well as the full house of about 80 audience members, prompting them to repeat  some of his words as he performed each piece.

To get a taste of his poetry, check out a video of Herrera reading his book “SkateFate” at UC Riverside, where he teaches and holds the Tomás Rivera Chair in the Department of Creative Writing. To learn more about CLA, visit its website.