University of Iowa

Workshop Alum Herrera Wins National Book Critics Circle Award


The 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry was shared by two writers with close connections to the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Workshop alumnus Juan Felipe Herrera was honored for "Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems," and former faculty member August Kleinzahler was honored for "Sleeping It Off in Rapid City." Herrera, the son the Mexican migrant workers, was a teaching fellow at the UI, winning an Excellence in Teaching Award in 1990, the year that he received his Master of Fine Arts degree.

"By the time I stepped into the workshop, I had been writing and performing poetry in various forms, from spoken word to poetry-in-performance and Teatro Chicano for 20 years," Herrera says. "Yet, a personal revolution occurred when I walked into workshops held by Marvin Bell, Gerald Stern and Jorie Graham. "Marvin assisted me from day one (and still does), as a mentor and as a fiery maestro at the table of the word. Although this may sound easy, from Marvin I came to grips with the architecture of a poem in all its aspects. Everything about my writing changed, and my work grew exponentially. It was a monumental change that still carries me forward to this day.

"Stern was another matter. In Gerry's workshop I came face to face with the powers of simplicity and the dangers of obscure language and evasive narrative. After resisting it, in time, simplicity proved to be a great ally. I also tapped into what we can call 'tone.'

"In Jorie's class, the problematic was how to strip language down to minute particles and then re-construct without ever 'staining' what is being said. This led me to rethink the poem, its construction and also how to talk about the poem and its workings. Read more...


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