California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera is coming to Ashland to read and talk about his writing.
Herrera's reading, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, at Ashland High School's Mountain Avenue Theater, as well as writing workshops he will teach in schools around the valley, are part of the Chautauqua Poets and Writers ongoing series, which brings amazing writers to the Rogue Valley to share their work and discuss their craft.
Amy MacLennan, a board member of the Chautauqua Poets and Writers, says she expects Herrera's reading to be as lively as his writing style.
"Juan Felipe Herrera is a true representative of California poetry. He's an energetic speaker and his work speaks to common struggles, emotions, and the wonder and disappointment of living in this world," she says.
MacLennan adds that Herrera is known for his easy communication with students. "He's a performer and he works a lot with young people, so this Chautauqua event has something for people of all ages."
The son of migrant workers, Herrera has mixed art and political passion for more than 30 years as a pioneer of the Chicano spoken word movement. He is now a professor at the University of California, Riverside, and was appointed California's poet laureate in 2012. In addition to being an award-winning poet and performer, Herrera also is a playwright and activist who has written 28 books of poetry, prose, young adult novels and children's books.
I picked up his book "187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross the Border: Undocuments 1971-2007" at the library last week. It's one of the most moving collections I've read in a long time. The book is not a standard collection of poetry. It's a wild hybrid of a personal and cultural history, with pieces that were written and performed during various travels from Mexico to San Francisco, and from Central America to central California.
The book is peppered with cartoons, photos, newspaper clippings, essays, rants, short stories and poetry in both English and Spanish. Like much of Herrera's work, it explores Chicano life and social conditions, giving the reader a picture of life as an immigrant in America. I love poetry and writing that surprises me, and nearly every page is a surprise, either with vivid language or a striking graphic.
The title poem, a strike against Proposition 187, California's anti-immigration legislation, had me hooked:
Because it's Indian land stolen from our mothers
Because we're too emotional when it comes to our mothers
Because we've been doing it for over 500 years already
Because it's too easy to say, I am from here.
Except for a few rambling bits, the writing is tight. Herrera candidly explores wounds inflicted by culture clashes and racism, and celebrates moments of unity and understanding. In a short essay called "How to Enroll in a Chicano Studies Class," he describes the students' fight for a Chicano studies class at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1968, and their subsequent feeling of success and hope when the class was created. "This was our starting point, a healing net across the borders "¦ this is all you need. Breathe in, breathe out, this green wind makes you stronger."
Mountain Avenue Theater is at 201 S. Mountain Ave., Ashland. Tickets for Herrera's appearance are $15 for general admission and $12 for students. Reserved seating is $20. Tickets can be purchased at Bloomsbury or Bookwagon Books in Ashland, at Oregon Books and Games in Grants Pass and online at www.ChautauquaWriters.org.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at email@example.com.