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2017 Speaker

Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera is the 21st Poet Laureate of the United States and is the first Latino to hold the position. From 2012-2014, Herrera served as California’s Poet Laureate, appointed by Governor Jerry Brown. As the state Poet Laureate, Herrera created the i-Promise Joanna Project, an anti-bullying poetry project inspired by an elementary school girl who was bullied and killed in an after-school fight in Long Beach, California.  

"By honoring Mr. Herrera, we celebrate how the arts enrich the spirit and express our desires for justice. Mr. Herrera has emphasized the need to speak boldly, in aesthetic terms, of our search for that justice in a world torn by injustice. His life and work are profound expressions that call for the inclusion of those who are on the margins of society” said Santa Clara University President Michael E. Engh, S.J.  

Herrera writes passionately about social issues and is a performance artist and activist on behalf of migrant and indigenous communities and at-risk youth. His work has been known to cross genres, even into opera and dance theatre.

“Back in 1962, as a beginning middle-schooler, I visited the campus of Santa Clara University with Padre Rasura from Logan Heights Barrio in San Diego. It was an idyllic paradise, palms and skies and adobe-colored, cinnamon scented structures,” said Juan Felipe Herrera. “For decades I recalled it and mused over its magic, a tender time of discovery. Soon, I will return, more than half a century later, and offer words of gratitude and celebration for the next generation, designers of new skies, the poetic kind, filled with heart, the kind that moves you forward to continue with joy for all.”

Herrera is the author of 30 books, including collections of poetry, prose, short stories, young adult novels and picture books for children. His collections of poetry include Notes of the Assemblage (City Lights, 2015), Senegal Taxi (University of Arizona, 2013); Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (2008), a recipient of the PEN/Beyond Margins Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award; 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross The Border: Undocuments 1971-2007 (City Lights, 2007); and Crashboomlove: A Novel in Verse (University of New Mexico, 1999), which received the Americas Award. In 2014, he released the nonfiction work Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes (Dial), which showcases 20 Hispanic and Latino American men and women who have made outstanding contributions to the arts, politics, science, humanitarianism and athletics.

Born in Fowler, California in 1948 to migrant farmworker parents, he moved around often, living in tents and trailers along the road in Southern California, and attended school in a variety of small towns from San Francisco to San Diego.

Herrera has received fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, the University of California at Berkeley, the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, the Stanford Chicano Fellows Program, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2016, he was awarded the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement at the 36th L.A. Times Book Prizes. Herrera was elected an Academy Chancellor in 2011. He was educated at UCLA and Stanford University in Social Anthropology, and received his MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and served as chair of the Chicano and Latin American Studies Department at CSU-Fresno. Herrera recently retired from the Creative Writing Department at UC Riverside. He lives in Fresno, California with his partner, the poet and performance artist, Margarita Robles.

At the undergraduate commencement, the University will confer an honorary degree on Juan Felipe Herrera as well as on Mike and Mary Ellen Fox, dedicated Catholic philanthropists, and Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., director, Vatican Observatory.

Past Speakers 

  • 2016 - Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services
  • 2015 - Fr. James Martin, S.J., Jesuit author and commentator
  • 2014 - Brandi Chastain, former player of SCU Women's Soccer and USA National Team