Lee Herrick, a writer-professor from Fresno, is chosen as California poet laureate

A black-and-white vertical portrait of California poet laureate Lee Herrick.
California poet laureate Lee Herrick is the author of three books of poems, “Scar and Flower,” “Gardening Secrets of the Dead” and “This Many Miles From Desire.”
(Curtis Messer)

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday appointed Lee Herrick, a Fresno-based writer and professor, to be the state’s poet laureate, citing a body of work that “explores the diversity and vitality of the California experience and the exhilarating success of the American experiment.”

Herrick, 52, was born in Daejeon, South Korea, and adopted when he was 10 months old by parents from Northern California. Formerly Fresno’s poet laureate, he teaches at Fresno City College and in the MFA program at the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. He has a wife and daughter and lives in Fresno.

Herrick is the author of three poetry collections — “Scar and Flower,” “Gardening Secrets of the Dead” and “This Many Miles From Desire” — and has published verse in numerous literary magazines, anthologies and textbooks.


“As a teacher, poet, and father, Lee writes movingly about his identity as a Californian and encourages others to reflect on what the state means to them,” Newsom said in a statement. “Lee’s dedication to highlighting the diverse experiences of Californians, and making them so accessible through his poetry, makes him a perfect candidate for Poet Laureate. I look forward to his work to inspire communities and individuals across the state through the power of the written word.”

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The state’s previous poet laureate was Dana Gioia, a former chairman of National Endowment for the Arts, who filled the role from 2015 to 2018. The position had been vacant since Gioia’s departure.

“I am deeply honored, humbled, and excited to be named California Poet Laureate,” Herrick said in a statement.

Herrick spoke to The Times in 2021 about being an Asian adoptee raised by white parents. He began to discover his Korean identity when he was in college after growing up in Danville, Calif. Having been the only student of color at his elementary school, he said books were his primary access to information about the culture he’d been born into.

Asian adoptees “begin to believe that they are almost if not totally white,” he said. “That’s a danger for everybody involved. There are some who deny their identities well into their 50s.”

Herrick’s new role will see him advocating for the art of poetry in classrooms and boardrooms alike. He will serve a two-year term, once confirmed by the state Senate, and will receive a stipend from the California Arts Council.