Culver Center Hosts California Poet Laureate

Juan Felipe Herrera will present his first public reading on May 4 of new work since his appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera, California Poet Laureate

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Juan Felipe Herrera will present his first public reading on May 4 of new work since being named California Poet Laureate by Gov. Jerry Brown in March. The award-winning UC Riverside poetry professor is known for chronicling the lives of Mexican Americans.

He will present his reading at UCR;s Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts,  3824 Main St., beginning at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Herrera will read from “Senegal Taxi: Mud Drawings,” his new book (forthcoming from University of Arizona Press); a performance-poetry text-in-progress, “Scream Love”; and a dance-musical-in-progress, “CUCA & EVA & The Boat of Illusion, a Variety Tour,” which is based on interviews from the last two living song-and-dance stars of radio theater in the post-revolution arts explosion of the 1930s in the Juarez/El Paso borderlands.

“I dedicate this reading to my parents, Lucha and Felipe, who gave me all of their kindnesses and their stories of struggle and transcendence — and to all,” he said.

The reading is followed by the Culver Center of the Arts regularly scheduled weekend screenings on Fridays and Saturdays.

On May 4 and 5, Culver will screen “Bill Cunningham in New York,” directed by Richard Press, at 7 p.m.. The “Bill” in question is 80+ New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham. For decades, this Schwinn-riding cultural anthropologist has been obsessively and inventively chronicling fashion trends and high society charity soirées for the Times Style sections. Documenting uptown fixtures (Tom Wolfe, Brooke Astor, David Rockefeller), downtown eccentrics and everyone in between, Cunningham’s enormous body of work is more reliable than any catwalk as an expression of time, place and individual flair. Bill Cunningham in New York is a delicate, funny and often poignant portrait of a dedicated artist whose only wealth is his own humanity and unassuming grace.

General admission for the film is $9.99 with tickets available online and at the front desk. Admission for students with I.D. is $5.00 with these discounted tickets available only at the front desk. For more information on this film, go to

Additionally, May 4-5 will be the closing weekned of the MFA Thesis Show 2012 at UCR Sweeney Art Gallery, which will be on view prior to the reading,

Herrera, 63, the son of migrant farm workers, holds the Tomás Rivera Chair in Creative Writing at UC Riverside. He joined the UCR faculty in 2005. The award-winning Chicano poet said he was touched by the honor and acknowledged the influence of Tomás Rivera, a noted Chicano author, poet and educator who served as UCR’s chancellor from 1979 until his death in 1984.

UCR is “extraordinarily proud of Juan Felipe Herrera, who is not only a poet but an author and writer of children’s books,” UCR Chancellor Timothy White said. “Herrera is the epitome of living the promise of a California public education. This son of farm laborers was the first in hisfamily to attend college. Today he is a revered, award-winning poet and writer who speaks to the young and the old through his depictions of the lives of ordinary people.”

A panel of experts convened by the California Arts Council submits a list of candidates for California Poet Laureate to the governor, who makes the appointment, which is confirmed by the Senate. The position, established in 2001 by the Legislature, is intended to spread the art of poetry from classrooms to boardrooms across the state, and to inspire and educate all Californians about the poets and authors who have influenced the state.

Andrew Winer, chair of the UCR Department of Creative Writing, expressed his delight: “This honor reflects what we have had the privilege of seeing up close ever since he joined our distinguished faculty: namely, this remarkably gifted poet’s unique ability to connect — through his art and teaching — with everyone, regardless of their cultural or educational background.

“Here at UCR, Juan Felipe Herrera is a beloved professor and colleague. That he’s a highly acclaimed international figure who was also recently elected to the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets will never prevent this compassionate and generous teacher from reaching out to students on campus or beyond in the greater community. The diversity, quality, and public visibility of his writing and teaching make him as perfect a fit for UCR and its Department of Creative Writing as he is for the position of Poet Laureate of California. We’re all so proud of him.”

One of the goals of the poet laureate project is to introduce poetry to students who might otherwise have little exposure to the literaryform. That is a goal dear to Herrera, who, like more than half of UCR students, was the first in his family to attend college.

“I did not start out to be a speaker, or a writer or much less, a poet or professor,” he recalled in a 2009 speech during the inauguration of UCR Chancellor Timothy P. White. “Quite the contrary, my beginnings were at the margins of society, where promise-stuff is elusive and rarely reaches fruition — in the fields of California, as a campesino child of farm workers. All I truly owned were simple, humble things — my father Felipe’s tellings — how in 1899 he jumped a train from Chihuahua, Mexico, at the age of 14, straight to Denver, Colorado, where he would later work tending cattle, farming crops and setting railroads. And I had my mother Lucha’s reminiscences of her journey with her eight siblings and mother, a few years after the Mexican Revolution — crossing into El Paso, Texas, then, after World War II, to San Francisco to work as a ‘salad girl’ at the St. Francis Hotel. That is all I possessed.”

The door of promise opened, he said, when he enrolled at UCLA, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in social anthropology in 1972. He went on to earn a master’s degree in social anthropology from Stanford University and a master of fine arts from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop).

Herrera has published numerous volumes of poetry, prose, theater, children’s books and young adult novels, among them “Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems” (University of Arizona, 2008), which received the PEN/Beyond Margins Award, the International Latino Award in poetry, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has been elected to the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets, and has received the Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry, fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council, and the UC Berkeley Regent’s Fellowship. Other honors include the Breadloaf Fellowship in Poetry, the Stanford Chicano Fellows Fellowship, the Ezra Jack Keats Award, the Hungry Mind Award of Distinction and the Focal Award.

UCR ARTSblock includes California Museum of Photography, Culver Center of the Arts, and Sweeney Art Gallery, which are located at 3824 and 3834 Main St., in downtown Riverside. The three venues are open Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m., plus 6 to 9 p.m. for First Thursday ArtWalks. Admission is $3, which includes entry to all the venues and is free during First Thursday ArtWalks. For film screenings, Culver Center opens 30 minutes prior to the start time. See websites for additional information,,,

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