Several Fresno State representatives will travel to Washington, D.C., next week for the closing ceremony of Juan Felipe Herrera’s second term as the United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.
The celebration, titled “Speak the People/the Spark/el Poema,” will kick off at noon on Wednesday, April 26, with a choral performance by the Fresno State Chamber Singers in Room 119 on the first floor of the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building (10 First St. S.E.) in Washington, D.C. The singers, directed by Dr. Cari Earnhart, will perform newly commissioned pieces developed by music professors Benjamin Boone and Kenneth Froelich in collaboration with the poet laureate, a Fowler native.
Festivities will continue at 7 p.m. in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Thomas Jefferson Building with a panel discussion about the continuing emergence of Latino culture and its influence on the nation. Participants will be Herrera; Martha González, Quetzal lead vocalist; CSU Trustee Hugo Morales, the founder and executive director of Radio Bilingüe; and Louie Pérez, a singer and songwriter with Los Lobos. Rafael Pérez-Torres, an English professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, will moderate the discussion.
Immediately following the panel, a concert in the Coolidge Auditorium with the Grammy Award-winning East Los Angeles Chicano rock band Quetzal will close out the celebration. Quetzal brings together a wide range of musical influences, including Mexican ranchera, cumbia, salsa, rock, R&B, folk and fusions of international music.
All events are free and open to the public, but tickets are required.
About the celebration, Herrera said, “Meshing poetry and music with the Fresno State Chamber Singers, a panel on Latino culture, music by Quetzal — this night is a culmination of two years of beautiful and thoughtful audiences; of trains, planes, cars, highways, children, teachers and artists; of poetry seekers driving for miles to listen and exchange and tell me about their lives. This event will have all the love I can bring to it, and all the appreciations that have been given to me during these last two years; I hope to give back.”
Herrera is the author of 30 books of poetry, novels for young adults and collections for children. He has been one of the most active poets laureate in the history of the position, with two first-term projects and three second-term projects.
This past September, Herrera launched an online project, “The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon” — a bilingual illustrated poem created by Herrera and artist Juana Medina. This poem, presented at Read.gov, features contributions by second- and third-grade students and their elementary-school teachers and librarians from across the country.
Continuing his work with students, Herrera and the Library of Congress collaborated throughout the 2016–2017 school year with the Poetry Foundation in Chicago and the Chicago Public Schools on a program titled “Wordstreet Champions and Brave Builders of the Dream” (loc.gov/poetry/wordstreet). Herrera worked with about 30 high school English teachers from Chicago to develop new exercises and strategies for teaching poetry to freshmen students.
Herrera’s third initiative during his second term involved the creation of a West Coast office, the “Laureate Lab — Visual Wordist Studio,” serving as a performance and classroom space in the Henry Madden Library at Fresno State, where Herrera once taught. A Fresno resident, Herrera uses the space to develop small scale, dynamic programs and classes for his local community, mixing poetry with visual arts, song and movement.
For his poetry, Herrera has received two Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Awards, the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award and a PEN/Beyond Margins Award. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Stanford University Chicano Fellows. In 2016, Herrera was awarded the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement at the 36th Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.
Fresno State representatives at the festivities will include Provost Lynnette Zelezny, Dean Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval and Associate Dean Honora Chapman, both of the College of Arts and Humanities, Boone, Froelich and Earnhart and 20 chamber singers.
Boone talked about the collaborative experience this has been:
“Matthew Darling, our department chair, will play percussion with the Chamber Singers, and former long-time staff accompanist Hatem Nadim, who lives in Washington now, will accompany them.
Cari Earnhart, our new director of choral activities, will lead the singers,” Boone said. “It’s truly been a pleasure to collaborate with all of these individuals on this fitting tribute to Juan Felipe’s journey. I think the amazing piece that Ken Froelich wrote – ’The Road’ – chronicles Juan Felipe’s journey as a farm worker all the way up to his professorship at Fresno State and his tenure as U.S. Poet Laureate, in an artistic manner worthy of this auspicious occasion.”
The Chamber Singers will reprise their program in a free concert titled “Celebration of U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera” at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 9, in the Concert Hall at Fresno State. Advance tickets may be picked up in the Music Office (M134) between May 1 and May 9 (quantities are limited).
The American Folklife Center is a co-sponsor of the event, which is presented in partnership with Fresno State, the Office of the President, the Office of the Provost and the Fresno State Chamber Singers.