A leading voice in Chicano literature and the Mexican-American experience, Herrera writes in both English and Spanish, and some of his past work with young people has blended poetry, performance, politics, and activism.
When Herrera was finishing up his time as poet laureate, Associate Professor of Spanish Brenci Patiño took students in her classes to hear him at the Library of Congress, and how he used poetry to speak about the Latinx experience in America was very meaningful to them. That experience led Patiño to suggest him for the Doenges appointment.
“I think it was our account of the vibrant students that make up our community that led him to accept when I contacted him on behalf of Mary Baldwin,” said Martha Walker, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “We are a place where his voice will have an impact and where he will hear students speaking from a spectrum of different experiences.”
Half the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (2008) won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the International Latino Book Award. His other honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was also elected as chancellor for the Academy of American Poets in 2011, and served as the poet laureate of California from 2012 to 2015.
The son of migrant farm workers, Herrera was born in 1948 in Fowler, California, and spent his youth living in tents and trailers in farm communities around Southern California. He received a BA in social anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he became involved in experimental theater and the Chicano civil rights movement. He earned a master’s in social anthropology from Stanford University and an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Herrera is professor emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and the University of California, Riverside, and he lives with his family in Fresno.
He is the second former poet laureate to hold the Doenges scholar position at MBU; Maxine Kumin was in residence in 2002.
The Elizabeth K. Doenges Visiting Artist/Scholar Lecture Series was established in memory of the late Mary Baldwin alumna and trustee Elizabeth “Liddy” Kirkpatrick Doenges ’63 to bring distinguished artists and scholars to campus for an extended visit.