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California appoints Asian American poet laureate

Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Lee Herrick, a Korean American writer and professor of English, as California’s 10th poet laureate. 

Herrick, 52, is the first Asian American to hold the position. A former Fresno poet laureate, he has taught poetry at Fresno City College for 26 years and also teaches creative writing at the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. 

“As a teacher, poet, and father, Lee writes movingly about his identity as a Californian and encourages others to reflect on what the state means to them,” Newsom said in a statement

Born in Daejeon, South Korea, Herrick was adopted at ten months of age and raised in Modesto, California. In his works, including his three books and an upcoming fourth, Herrick cites the immigrant experience as one of his inspirations, according to an interview with EdSource.

“One of the major parts of my life, and probably my politics, is being an Asian American person raised by a White family,” Herrick told EdSource. “ … poetry was the place where I was able to put a lot of those questions and doubts and anger and hurt about my adoption, and about the racism I would experience regularly.” 

During his two year tenure, Herrick plans to invite local social justice organizations to speak at his readings around the state in order to bridge these organizations with poetry audiences. 

As part of his platform Our California, Herrick is also working towards a project that invites all Californians to write a poem about California, or their town or city, and compile it on the California Arts website and in an anthology. 

“I do believe that writing and poetry and the arts are (not only) deeply important for any person’s education, but also their lives,” Herrick told EdSource. “I’ve learned that I love teaching time and time again.”

As poet laureate, Herrick is also charged with poetry advocacy across the state through public readings and education of civic and state leaders, as well as students who may not otherwise have access to creative literary teachings.

“I am delighted to learn that Fresno poet Lee Herrick has been selected to the post of California Poet Laureate,” California Arts Council Chair Lilia Gonzáles-Chávez said in a press release. “[Herrick] is a wonderful example of the talented writers and poets that hail from the Central San Joaquin Valley. I know he will represent us well across the state.”

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