This poet laureate will make your brain work. Plus 4 other facts about his life and work.

Who'd have thought the son of two migrant workers could rise to the pinnacle of poetry honor?

The United States Library of Congress has appointed Juan Felipe Herrera national poet laureate. And, wow, he is extraordinary.


Juan Felipe Herrera. Image by Slowking4/Wikimedia Commons.

As a child, Herrera lived a nomadic life out of tents and trailers on farm roads throughout California. His folks, both migrant farmworkers from Mexico, moved with the seasons of agriculture for the often hazardous and thankless work in the fields.

Herrera and his father. Image via University of California Riverside/YouTube.

Despite steep social and economic odds, Herrera has achieved the top of his art on a mountain of original talent, unshakeable work ethic, and passion. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said Herrera was selected as poet laureate because his poems “champion voices, traditions and histories, as well as a cultural perspective, which is a vital part of our larger American identity."

Here are five great things to know about the nation's premier wordsmith:

1. He WILL make your brain work.

Herrera's writing is riddled with cultural references and mind-scrambling metaphors, but the images he conjures can launch even the least versed of his audience into a state of wonder.

Image via Poets.org/YouTube.

2. His poems are meant to be heard.

Many of Herrera's poems were written for spoken delivery. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he spoke of his humble beginnings with spoken word:

"I used to stand on the corner in San Diego with poems sticking out of my hip pocket, asking people if there was a place where I could read poems. The audience is half of the poem."

In this video, Herrera reads excerpts from a few of his poems, beginning with "187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross The Border," a call-and-response piece that involves the audience in an affirmation of each line of the story.

3. He's down with the kids.

Herrera's contemporaries are pretty excited about his knack for connecting young people to poetry. And with the rising popularity of spoken word among American youth, his appointment comes at a great time.

Herrera with a bilingual class in 1984. GIFs via Rick Tejada-Flores/YouTube.

Robert Casper of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress is stoked about Herrera:

"He speaks poetry in a way that I think is super-inspiring. ... He's the kind of poet who gives you permission to love poetry, to be excited about it, to be energized by it. To think that it's something freeing and fun but also relevant to the issues we face, the challenges we have; to understanding the world we're in."

4. He's an icon of recognition for a growing community.

Herrera is the first Latino — Chicano (Mexican-American), to be specific — to ever receive this honor. Latinos, who represent 17% of the U.S. population, are an important part of the country's cultural tapestry.

Image by Voces de la Frontera/Flickr.

As much of Herrera's writing focuses on working-class Latino experiences, a lot of people are very excited to see their heritage recognized in a culturally significant way.

5. He cares about the world and all its people.

In an interview with Washington Post, Ron Charles asks Herrera about a line from his book "Senegal Taxi" that goes, "Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!" to which he replied:

“Waking up is the biggest thing. I'm a political poet — let us say a human poet, a poet that's concerned with the plight of people who suffer. If words can be of assistance, then that's what I'm going to use."

And if that's not reason enough to love him, check out this video playlist of readings and interviews with Herrera. It won't take long to make you a fan. Then you can send him a congratulatory tweet to what has to be one of the best handles in the Twittersphere: @cilantroman.

Courtesy of Tiffany Obi
True

With the COVID-19 pandemic upending her community, Brooklyn-based singer Tiffany Obi turned to healing those who had lost loved ones the way she knew best — through music.

Obi quickly ran into one glaring issue as she began performing solo at memorials. Many of the venues where she performed didn't have the proper equipment for her to play a recorded song to accompany her singing. Often called on to perform the day before a service, Obi couldn't find any pianists to play with her on such short notice.

As she looked at the empty piano at a recent performance, Obi's had a revelation.

"Music just makes everything better," Obi said. "If there was an app to bring musicians together on short notice, we could bring so much joy to the people at those memorials."

Using the coding skills she gained at Pursuit — a rigorous, four-year intensive program that trains adults from underserved backgrounds and no prior experience in programming — Obi turned this market gap into the very first app she created.

She worked alongside four other Pursuit Fellows to build In Tune, an app that connects musicians in close proximity to foster opportunities for collaboration.

When she learned about and applied to Pursuit, Obi was eager to be a part of Pursuit's vision to empower their Fellows to build successful careers in tech. Pursuit's Fellows are representative of the community they want to build: 50% women, 70% Black or Latinx, 40% immigrant, 60% non-Bachelor's degree holders, and more than 50% are public assistance recipients.

Keep Reading Show less

As someone who has given birth to three children and who was raised by a labor-and-delivery nurse, you'd think I'd have a good handle on the physical mechanics of childbirth. But despite knowing all the terminology and experiencing all the details first hand—uterine contractions, cervical dilation, etc.—I'm a visual person, and most of the birth process happens internally. Feeling it and being told what's happening isn't the same as being able to visualize what's actually happening.

Enter high school teacher Brooke Bernal, who teaches consumer sciences. She shared a video on TikTok demonstrating how she teaches her students about childbirth, which she says is her "all time favorite lesson," using a balloon and a ping-pong ball. It's a simple, but-oh-so-helpful demonstration that even helped me get a better grip on the miracle of childbirth. (Without the baby shooting across the room at the end, of course.)

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less
via Jody Danielle Fisher / Facebook

Breast milk is an incredibly magical food. The wonderful thing is that it's produced by a collaboration between mother and baby.

British mother Jody Danielle Fisher shared the miracle of this collaboration on Facebook recently after having her 13-month-old child vaccinated.

In the post, she compared the color of her breast milk before and after the vaccination, to show how a baby's reaction to the vaccine has a direct effect on her mother's milk production.

Keep Reading Show less

Yesterday I was perusing comments on an Upworthy article about Joe Biden comforting the son of a Parkland shooting victim and immediately had flashbacks to the lead-up of the 2016 election. In describing former vice President Biden, some commenters were using the words "criminal," "corrupt," and "pedophile—exactly the same words people used to describe Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I remember being baffled that so many people were so convinced of Clinton's evil schemes that they genuinely saw the documented serial liar and cheat that she was running against as the lesser of two evils. I mean, sure, if you believe that a career politician had spent years being paid off by powerful people and was trafficking children to suck their blood in her free time, just about anything looks like a better alternative.

But none of that was true.

It's been four years and Hillary Clinton has been found guilty of exactly none of the criminal activity she was being accused of. Trump spent every campaign rally leading chants of "Lock her up!" under the guise that she was going to go to jail after the election. He's been president for nearly four years now, and where is Clinton? Not in jail—she's comfy at home, occasionally trolling Trump on Twitter and doing podcasts.

Keep Reading Show less