Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera Announces His Project, La Casa de Colores

Project Complements His Year of Public Programs in the Capital

In his first official appearance as the 21st Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, Juan Felipe Herrera announced today at the Library of Congress National Book Festival the official project of his laureateship, La Casa de Colores—including an invitation to Americans to contribute a verse to an “epic poem” about the American experience.

The poem, titled “La Familia,” will unfold monthly, with a new theme each month about an aspect of American life, values or culture.  Herrera will compile the contributions and announce the next theme on the Poetry and Literature Center’s blog.  A word cloud illustrating the responses will be posted to provide a visual snapshot of the language contributors used to articulate the themes.

La Casa de Colores also will include a monthly feature on resources at the Library of Congress.  “El Jardín,” a feature that includes videos, poems and blog posts, will show Herrera interacting with and responding to select items throughout the Library.

Poet Juan Felipe Herrera

Poet Juan Felipe Herrera

According to Herrera, “La Casa de Colores, ‘the House of Colors,’ is a house for all voices.  In this house we will feed the hearth and heart of our communities with creativity and imagination.  And we will stand together in times of struggle and joy.”

In developing the project, Herrera said, “If it is a ‘casa,’ a grand house for all of us, we must be a ‘familia,’ a family.  A family cannot flourish without a ‘jardín,’ a garden to care for, to create.  Our garden is our luminous Library of Congress with inspirations nestled inside for more than 200 years.”

La Casa de Colores will be launched on www.loc.gov/poetry in mid-September to coincide with the Library’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations.  For more information about Hispanic Heritage Month at the Library of Congress, visit www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/events.html

La Casa de Colores will complement the laureate’s year of public programs in the capital.  These programs, co-sponsored by the Library’s Hispanic Division, will champion U.S. Hispanic literature and its connection to larger cultural movements.

Herrera will give his opening reading at the Library Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E.  In this reading, the kickoff to Hispanic Heritage Month at the Library, the laureate will read a “corrido,” a Mexican ballad that, according to Herrera, “announces the news of the day, a people’s story in their terms.”  The corrido will be created in a Library workshop.  Herrera also will play a selection from the Library’s Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape to celebrate its launch.  The reading is free and open to the public.  No tickets are required, but seating is limited.

Herrera will headline an event at the National Portrait Gallery on Jan. 23 at 2 p.m. in the Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium to honor “One Life: Dolores Huerta.”  Herrera, alongside Diana Garcia and Arlene Biala, will read poetry responding to the exhibit as a way to highlight Huerta, a leader in the United Farm Workers movement and lifelong champion of workers’ rights.  This event is sponsored by the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center; Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the University of Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies; the National Portrait Gallery; the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center; and the Smithsonian Latino Center.

Herrera will conclude his laureateship with an event celebrating U.S. Hispanic culture and literature on April 13 at 7 p.m. in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Thomas Jefferson Building.  This event will kick off the 2016 “Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness,” a four-day festival featuring readings, workshops, youth voices and activism.

The Poet Laureate is selected for a one-year term by the Librarian of Congress.  The selection is based on poetic merit, as per Public Law 99-194 (Dec. 20, 1985).  The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the Poet Laureate, who opens the literary season in the fall and closes it in May.  Laureates, in recent years, have initiated poetry projects that broaden the audiences for poetry.

Herrera is the first Hispanic poet to serve in the position. The Library announced his appointment June 10. In a statement, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, “I see in Herrera’s poems the work of an American original…His poems engage in a serious sense of play – in language and in image – that I feel gives them enduring power. I see how they champion voices, traditions and histories, as well as a cultural perspective, which is a vital part of our larger American identity.”

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 160 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site and in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at www.loc.gov.