United States Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, a former Fresno State professor, will receive the 2015 Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement April 9 during the 21st Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California’s Board Auditorium.
“We are delighted to honor Juan Felipe Herrera’s remarkable 45-year career as a writer, teacher and activist,” said Kenneth Turan, LA Times film critic and director of the Book Prizes. “His literary contributions include poetry, prose, young adult novels and children’s literature, and his work in all artistic forms highlights a life dedicated to giving voice to those who are not always heard.”
The Los Angeles Times announced Tuesday this year’s Book Prizes honorees and finalists. The Book Prizes recognize 50 works in 10 different categories: biography, current interest, fiction, first fiction, graphic novel/comics, history, mystery/thriller, poetry, science and technology and young adult literature. The complete list of this year’s finalists and further information, including past winners, is available at latimes.com/bookprizes.
“The Robert Kirsch Award is a great honor that I will receive with deep gratitude for all who have stood by me and most of all, for my parents — farm worker pioneers from the San Joaquin Valley, New Mexico and Texas,” said Herrera, who taught in Fresno State’s Chicano and Latin American Studies Department from 1990 to 2004 and served as chair for two years.
Dr. Michelle Denbeste, interim dean of the College of Social Sciences at Fresno State, said the win will expose poetry to a larger audience. “Herrera is deeply committed to making poetry accessible and engaging his audiences,” she said. “This national honor will expose his work to many people who may have never picked up a book of poetry.”
Herrera is a central figure in the Valley’s literary community, and is credited with fueling creative student ventures such as Teatro Zapata, a Latino student theater troupe that was the forerunner to the current Teatro of Raza Towards Involvement in Local Latino Awareness (T.O.R.T.I.L.L.A.), the Cesar Chavez Poetry Choir and the Chicano Writers Association.
“Juan Felipe Herrera’s win of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize is yet another testament to the importance of his poetry to California and to the world,” said Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State. “As a son of our Valley, Herrera nurtures and forges his poetic imagery and thought with the playful fusion of languages and cultures, reinventing the world with a unique poetic language rooted in his practice of exploring the world with eyes of optimism.”
Herrera studied at the University of California, Los Angeles and Stanford University and has a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He taught at University of California, Riverside until his retirement last May.
Tickets for the ceremony will go on sale March 8.