Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Juan Felipe Herrera Delivers Sayers Lecture at his Alma Mater. News 'n Notes.

Michael Sedano

Good things come in all sizes and shapes, and in the greater Los Angeles basin, distance. Variety spices life but confounds desire and planning when they--the Good things--all come at once. Given eastside westside all around the town, faced with choices last Sunday, I choose the road less traveled.

In Highland Park, a La Palabra reading convened at Avenue 50 Studio. My hometown Pasadena Arts Fest had a Huizache panel that meant cutting it too close on the other end. Concepción Valadez had secured tickets to hear Juan Felipe Herrera deliver the 2017 Frances Clarke Sayers Lecture at UCLA. No playing CPT at a major university fete, so the best bet was playing it safe. I opted for an early start on the drive to the West side.

Juan Felipe Herrera's first publication from his undergrad days at UCLA
200 copies were printed, then lost, now located in storage. Pristine and beautifully printed.

Parking was free, an incredibly humane policy for the non-academic public. Parking Lot SV served Sunset Village, an astonishingly upscale residence complex served by coffee shops, book stores, and a spacious auditorium. The sponsor, UCLA Ed & IS and the UCLA Department of Information Studies, pulled out all the stops. The entry foyer glistened with champagne flutes and a sea of bottle necks protruding from cases of wine.

Afterwards, the foyer had been set up to dispense beverages and elegant sweets. Outside in the patio, crudités, exquisite cheeses, fruits, hummus, olives, and eggplant filled plates while attendants circulated with hot appetizers. Gluten-free guests loved the warm dried fig slathered with gorgonzola cheese and topped with walnut.

The Sayers Lecture honors former Department Of Information Studies faculty member Dr. Frances Clarke Sayers (1897-1989), who, the school's website informs, "was a noted American children’s librarian, author, and lecturer. She was an outspoken advocate for excellence in children’s literature, making her one of the most influential children’s librarians of her generation."

For Juan Felipe Herrera the lecture has the look and feel of an unofficial stop on the Poet Laureate’s unofficial farewell tour. After two years of traveling about the schools and poetry stages of the nation, Herrera has wrapped up his two terms in D.C. and comes home.

The stage has been set up with an imposing lectern on the left, a table decorated with perfect Peonies separates two chairs center stage.  He is introduced from the lectern by academics comfortable behind a pulpit. Offered the lecturer's spot, Herrera elects to stand. He sits for a Q&A following his talk.

The sound system amplifies every thump of the poet's hand brushing across his lavaliere mic. The thumping was worse from the lectern and the audience quickly grows accustomed to the thumps.

Herrera was in a mood to reminisce and he devotes the hour in a synoptic memoir delivered with an understated straightforwardness, the voice of a man who’s been at the center of such amazing events as Poet Laureate of California, two terms as Poet Laureate of the United States, traveling all around the country doing poetry, harvesting the fields as a kid.

Juan Felipe has been incredibly productive in publishing poetry collections, hasta children’s picture books. During the reading portion of the lecture, Herrera brings out two books. One is his first publication, from his UCLA undergrad days. Another comes from a trove of recently recovered copies of a once-lost book.

The Sayers Lecture was mostly narrative,  the poet responding to his introduction. He brought no guitar did hat tricks. The speaker’s natural animated delivery held his audience's focus. They are willing to recite along with the poet. Like the lecture, the poems are multilingual, engaging, affirmational. The audience is a little slow to get into the call-response flow, but after two or three lines the house was with the poet, word for word. Everyone was doing poetry.

The Sayers Lecture draws a book-buying audience. Events like this allow readers and collectors to own books autographed by the author. Such volumes have value well beyond their contents.

Concepción Valadez was the last person in line, casí

Concepción Valadez is the kind of audience poets love. She buys multiple titles and multiple copies for friends and familia.

It’s a good thing the A-list food was served, it keeps people out of the book-signing line that stretches out the door. People eat, then get in line. The friendly laureate signs and adds a line drawing to the page while engaging each book buyer in repartee. The wait allows plenty of time for people to write a name on a post-it note. The Laureate then copies the slip to his title page, personalizing the book while giving the reader a memorable moment of conversation and camaraderie among the people in line.

National Hispanic Cultural Center Plans Reading

San Jose, CA
Bless Me, Ultima Opera in Try-out Performance

The event organizers plan this as a gala event. Per their invitation:

Following the presentation, there will be a private post-reception. Join us for refreshments to celebrate the performance and meet the artists! Attendance will be limited to 25 guests for this special event.

June 17th, 2017 @ MACLA in San Jose
2:00pm Bless Me Ultima Presentation ($15.00)
3:00pm Private Post-Reception ($30.00)

**PLEASE NOTE: You must purchase an "Adult-General" ticket AND a "Private Post-Reception" ticket if you plan to attend both the performance and the reception.

For information on tickets, contact 1-800-838-3006 or click here.

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