SACRAMENTO – Gov. Gavin Newsom on Nov. 18 appointed Lee Herrick of Fresno as California’s poet laureate, making him the first Asian American to hold the title.

The role of the California poet laureate is to spread the art of poetry across the state, to inspire an emerging generation of literary artists, and to educate all Californians about the many poets and authors who have influenced California creative literary expression.

Lee Herrick

“I am deeply honored, humbled, and excited to be named California Poet Laureate,” said Herrick, who will use his platform called Our California to bring together poetry with a social justice or civic engagement organization in each city that he visits during his term as poet laureate. “I am grateful to Gov. Newsom, his staff, First Partner Siebel Newsom, the Fresno Arts Council, the City of Fresno for making me a poet, poets and writers and readers throughout this great state, friends, teachers, colleagues, students, and mostly, my family, parents and sister, and my wife and daughter for their love and light.”

Over the course of a two-year term, the California poet laureate provides public readings and engagement in urban and rural settings across the state; educates civic and state leaders about the value of poetry and creative expression; and undertakes a significant cultural project that aims to bring the poetic arts to students who might otherwise have little opportunity to be exposed to poetry.

“I am delighted to learn that Fresno poet Lee Herrick has been selected to the post of California Poet Laureate,” said California Arts Council Chair Lilia Gonzáles-Chávez, who also serves as executive director of the Fresno Arts Council. “[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.”

Herrick succeeds Dana Gioia, who served in the position from 2015 to 2018.

Upon learning of Herrick’s appointment, Gioia remarked to the California Arts Council, “It’s wonderful to have a poet from the Central Valley, the heart of our huge and complicated state.”

“He will know that there is an eager audience for poetry everywhere in California, not just in the big cities,” Gioia added.

About Lee Herrick

Herrick, 52, of Fresno is a writer and professor who teaches at Fresno City College and the MFA program at the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. A former Fresno poet laureate, Herrick’s work is a vivid celebration of the California experience.

Herrick’s poetry canon explores the diversity and vitality of the California experience and the exhilarating success of the American experiment. Born in Daejeon, South Korea and adopted as an infant, he grew up in Modesto immersed in literature, art, and various cultural influences.

Herrick writes eloquently on the immigrant experience – bringing to life the smell of chapchae and the sound of mariachi trumpets, the farmers market at midnight, and the small talk of Armenian neighbors. Herrick’s work is a Whitmanesque celebration of the best spirit of our state, the vibrancy of the Central Valley, and ourselves.

Herrick served as poet laureate of the City of Fresno from 2015 to 2017, leading local efforts to bridge communities and engaging young people in expressing themselves through writing.

Herrick’s work has been published in Bloomsbury Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, Normal School, The Poetry Foundation, ZYZZYVA, and other publications. He is a contributor to many anthologies, particularly those examining the literary flourishing of California’s Central Valley. He is the author of three books of poetry: “Scar and Flower,” “Gardening Secrets of the Dead” and “This Many Miles from Desire.”

About the Poet Laureate Appointment Process

The position of California poet laureate was established as a part of the California Government Code in 2001 through AB 113, authored by Assemblymember Fran Pavley. Through this bill, the California Arts Council manages the nomination process.

After a call to the general public for nominations, electronic applications are reviewed by a panel of knowledgeable and experienced California poets who are identified in consultation with representatives of literary organizations, universities, and other experts in the field.

The panelists review all applications and narrow the number to 15 to 25. Subsequently, the panelists meet, evaluate the top applications, and rank them according to the review criteria: recognition for excellence of their work, a significant body of published work, consideration as a poet of stature, and willingness to undertake a specific project that shall last through the term of service.

The names of the top three applicants are sent to the Governor’s Office for additional vetting. The governor makes the final selection and names the poet laureate, who must be confirmed by the Senate.

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