Juan Felipe Herrera was born in 1948 in Fowler, California. »I was born in the tiny town of Fowler / ›the raisin capital of the world.‹ / My mother and father were farmworkers, / and I grew up travelling with them / through the mountains and valleys of California.« So begins Herrera’s autobiographical children’s book, »Calling the Doves« (1995), which received the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award. After years of wandering, the Herrera family settled in San Diego. The author studied Social Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles and Stanford University, followed by Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. During his studies he initiated the performance group »Teatro Tolteca«, which combined movement theatre with jazz and spoken word poetry. After further performance ensembles Herrera founded the »Teatro Ambulante de Salud/The Traveling Health Theater«, which performed, above all, for immigrant families. Herrera himself took part in many performances in the United States and Central America, often with his life partner Margarita Luna Robles, to whom several of his books are dedicated.
In »Love After the Riots« (1996), the character of Marga functions as a guide through a Los Angeles shaken by violence. Like Dante, who crosses the circles of hell protected by Beatrice, so too moves the narrator through the Californian metropolis after the upheavals triggered in 1992 by the mishandling of a black man by white policemen, who then went unpenalised. His surrealistic poems describe the collapse of civilization. The volume of poetry »Giraffe on Fire« (2001) represents, according to the author, »a poetic collage of voices, genres, and time-spaces. A display of power over language and rhythm. A postmodern performance of naked figures hanging in the nebulae of a militarized universe. A new millennium cubist manifesto against decrepit political machines. A mystic song in search of birth and love.«
In his bilingual children’s books Herrera depicts outsiders who live up to their full capacities through courage and creativity. »The Upside Down Boy« (2000) was adapted into a musical and also performed. His most recent books for young people, »Cinnamon Girl« and »Downtown Boy«, appeared in autumn 2005.
Herrera is a well-known and highly respected figure in Chicano Literature and has been honored with myriad grants and prizes. He has written over 20 books and is also the author of articles, essays, and reviews. He was the co-founder of the first Chicano Art Exhibition of California and has given writing courses, lectures, and seminars nationwide. Herrera is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside.
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