Juan Felipe Herrera, born in 1948, grew up sleeping in tents, the son of migrant workers in California.
Now, he's the first Latino writer to serve as U.S. poet laureate, highlighting a career that includes at least 15 collections of poetry, a dozen books for young readers and and years teaching at the University of California, Riverside.
"Do not wait for a poem; a poem is too fast for you," he has said about writing.
"Do not wait for the poem, run with the poem and then write the poem. And of course immerse yourself in a sea of books and poems. You want to be in that parade, that's what you have to do."
Herrera's sea of poems led to his appointment as poet laureate last year by the Library of Congress, and this year he starts a second term. On Sunday, he will be the featured guest at the second annual St. Louis Brick City Poetry Festival, joining two local poet laureates: St. Louis' Michael Castro and East St. Louis' Eugene B. Redmond in readings.
A graduate of Stanford University, where Herrera received a master's in social anthropology, he went to Iowa's famed writing workshop when he was about 40. Among his many awards are a National Book Critics Circle Award for "Half the World in Light" (2008) and a Guggenheim fellowship (2010).
He is also known for his performance art, activism and writing about cultural identity.
In the 2011 poem "Everyday We Get More Illegal," he writes: "Yesterday homeless &/w/o papers Alberto/left for Denver a Greyhound bus he said/where they don’t check you."
The poetry festival, which runs five days, also includes the naming of a youth poet laureate. That will be at UrbArts, 2600 North 14th Street, at 7 p.m. Friday.
But the kickoff is Thursday night with readings from a new anthology, "Crossing the Divide," which features local poets. That event starts at 7 p.m. at the Stage at KDHX, 3524 Washington Avenue.
On Saturday at 11 a.m., Jane Ellen Ibur will conduct a poetry workshop, and a new Warrior Poet will be named Saturday night.
A panel of women poets will be featured on Sunday when Missouri laureate Aliki Barnstone joines Shirley LeFlore and Cheeraz Gorman.
On Monday, River Styx features poets reading at the Contemporary Museum.
For more details about all these events, go to UrbArts.org.