Born to migrant farm workers in Fresno County in 1948, Juan Felipe Herrera grew up living in trailers and tents before finishing high school and earning a grant that allowed him to attend UCLA.
There, he would earn his bachelor’s degree and go on to earn a master’s in social anthropology from Stanford in 1980 and an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1990.
His early exposure to Mexico’s indigenous cultures — combined with coming of age in San Diego in the 1960s and living as a young poet in 1970s San Francisco — set the tone for more than a dozen collections of poetry that, in 2012, earned Herrera the distinction of being named California’s poet laureate.
In 2015, the California native was named U.S. poet laureate. On Thursday, Herrera visits Flintridge Preparatory School in La Cañada, where he’ll deliver a presentation “Sharing Diverse Stories: Becoming a Poet of the 21st Century.”
Reading from his works, the poet will explore themes surrounding migration and immigration, the California identity, political poetry and the power of kindness.
Flintridge Prep Dean of Studies and history teacher Sarah Cooper worked with colleague Ingrid Herskind and other administrators to coordinate a speaking event under auspice of the school’s Global Studies Initiative, which aims to change how students think about the world.
“We wanted to bring in a speaker who would embody both global and local perspectives, while also telling a compelling narrative that would draw in students, faculty, parents and community members alike,” Cooper told the Valley Sun. “Herrera’s background as a Californian and U.S. poet laureate, as well as a commentator on current issues, fit the bill.”
Before his 6 p.m. talk, which is free and open to the public, Herrera will appear at an afternoon assembly for students and faculty.
Cooper said the Global Studies initiative is one of three major curricular initiatives — along with STEAM and leadership — that will be housed in a new building being constructed on the north end of campus.
The Bachmann Collaboration Building will be named in honor of Headmaster Peter Bachmann, who plans to retire at the end of the school year after 40 years of service.
FYI: The event takes place 6 to 7 p.m. in the Chandramohan Library at Flintridge Preparatory School, 4343 Crown Ave., La Cañada. The free talk will be followed by a book-signing. Copies of Herrera’s works will be available for purchase.