by Rigoberto González | Feb-17-2009
Each day leading up to the March 12 announcement of the 2008 NBCC awards, we highlight one of the thirty finalists. Today, NBCC board member Rigoberto González discusses Juan Felipe Herrera’s Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press)
Juan Felipe Herrera is one of Chicano literature’s most recognized and critically acclaimed writers. His prolific output (approximately twenty-one titles and counting) includes poetry, prose, young adult novels, and picture books for children. The publication of Half of the World in Light, a selection from Herrera’s twelve collections of poetry, marks a milestone in the author’s forty-year career.
The selections in this volume demonstrate Herrera’s rich and varied poetics, from the political to the playful. Herrera’s work is informed by his participation in the cultural and historical Chicano Movement of the 1960s, by a strong influence from Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation, and by an awareness of Mexico’s intimate and conflicted relationship with the U.S. Indeed, Herrera inhabits, critiques and re-imagines the borderlands between Spanish and English, barrio-speak and academic philology, Mesoamerican myth and popular culture, to give readers a unique and original lens through which to view contemporary society in the Americas.
Intra-lingual and cross-cultural wordplay is the essence of Herrera’s humor, which dances across landscapes and timelines to unmask hypocrisies and expose the absurdist nature in everything from the colonialist past to the imperialist/capitalist practices of the present. But at the heart of book is a celebration of the Chicano identity and community, which continues to thrive after all these years despite internal and external conflicts.
At times reflective and exploratory, at times incendiary and polemic, Herrera’s Half of the World in Light offers an extraordinary sweep across a distinguished literary career.
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