Juan Felipe Herrera, acclaimed poet and professor emeritus in the Department of Creative Writing, will soon be able to list an elementary school in his roster of honors. Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary School, slated to open in August 2020, will be erected in southeast Fresno. The decision to honor Herrera, a Fresno County native, was announced May 9. He was selected by district officials from a pool of roughly 100 recommendations made by the public.
“I am humbled and honored to have an elementary school named after me,” Herrera said. “As a child, when we stopped in Fresno on the farm-working trail through the Valley, to cool off, I used to swim in the old fountains of the downtown park in Fresno. All their lives, my parents worked hard as migrant workers. This naming of the school is for them and for all of our new pioneering communities.”
Herrera was raised throughout the agricultural communities of the San Joaquin Valley and attended school in several towns from San Francisco to San Diego. He credits growing up in these various swaths of California with coloring his multigenre body of work, which includes poetry, prose, and dance theater, and has made him a leading voice on the Mexican American and indigenous experience.
Prior to his tenure at UC Riverside, Herrera taught at California State University, Fresno. He transitioned to UCR in 2005 when he was named The Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair in Creative Writing.
“Both Fresno State and UCR have supported me in accomplishing many projects and writing that in one way or another led to realizing many honors,” he said.
Those honors include fellowships and grants from the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, California Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts, Stanford Chicano Fellows Program, and UC Berkeley. His numerous awards include the Ezra Jack Keats Award, Hungry Mind Award of Distinction, Americas Award, Focal Award, and L.A. Times Book Prize’s Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement. In 2012, he was named California's poet laureate, and later became the first Latino U.S. poet laureate in 2015.
Herrera has published 30 books of poetry, spoken word, novels for young adults, and collections for children. His newest book, “Jabberwalking,” is a guide for children searching for their inner poet. Filled with scribbles, comic strips, and ink drawings, the book encourages children to find freedom in their creative endeavors.
“It has been my mission to serve and write for young people — education is primary, it transforms our dreams into creative and expressive reality.”