Lee Herrick, California’s ‘most giving’ poet laureate, celebrates his new appointment


By Jazmin Alvarado Villegas, Reporter

On Nov. 18, Gov. Gavin Newsom selected Lee Herrick as California’s 10th poet laureate. Newsom personally delivered the news to Herrick, surprising him while he was teaching a class at Fresno City College. 

“Poetry is in everyone, I think, and it feels like a gift to be able to write and talk about poetry and meet people,” Herrick told The Collegian.

According to the California Arts Council website, the California poet laureate is appointed by the governor. The mission of the laureate is to advocate poetry in classrooms across California and inspire a future generation of artists.

The celebration ceremony and poetry reading was held Feb. 9 in the Old Administration Building at Fresno City College. The ceremony lasted two hours and was followed by a reception and book signing with Herrick. 

Herrick is currently a writer and professor at Fresno City College and at the University of Nevada master of fine arts program. He served as Fresno’s poet laureate from 2015 to 2017. 

He is California’s first Asian American poet laureate and is the author of three books of poetry. His poetry explores the diversity and vitality of living the Californian and American experience. 

The ceremony involved congratulation speeches, poetry readings and introductions. Speakers ranged from Fresno City College faculty, the director of the Fresno Arts Council and a member of Central California Asian Pacific Women.

The event began with poetry readings from individuals close to Herrick, consisting of Fresno City faculty, students, and alumni. They also shared how Herrick inspired and made an impact on their lives.

“It was an honor to be chosen and to be on stage amongst other amazing poets gathered to celebrate Lee. I just felt very accepted and grateful,“ said Katie Quigley, a Fresno City alumna and one of the chosen poetry readers. 

Lilia González Chávez, the director of the Fresno Arts Council, spoke about how Fresno is full of talented writers and poets. She mentioned how Herrick was a prime example of celebrating “one of our own.” 

“Herrick is continuously inspiring people to express themselves through writing,” Chavez said.

Joseph Rios, a Fresno City alumnus and poet, shared how Herrick was the reason he became a poet. He said Herrick was his first poetry teacher and served as his role model and mentor.

“I really wouldn’t be a poet if it wasn’t for him and for his work and later mentorship and long-term friendship,” Rios said.

“The way that he’s so generous with young writers, new writers, and so encouraging, I really carry that into every classroom I go into,” he added.

Herrick shared that his favorite thing about being a professor is that he gets to be a small part of incredible people’s lives when the are students in his class.

Lee Herrick poses with two attendees during a book signing at Fresno City College on Feb. 9. (Manuel Hernandez/The Collegian)

A piece of advice Herrick would offer to upcoming writers is to find an encouraging support system and to be true to oneself and follow one’s heart.  

“I would say read as much as you can. Write and find trusting and encouraging people who can help and support your writing,” Herrick said. 

Brynn Saito, a poet and professor at Fresno State, explained how Herrick isn’t just a writer. She expressed how Herrick truly has a passion for language and instituting curiosity in his readers. 

“He shows his readers not only how to hear but how to listen,” Saito said.

To close the ceremony, Herrick took the stage, giving thanks to everyone who made his accomplishment possible. He also read a few of his poems.

Everyone who spoke at the event and had a personal connection to Herrick expressed how endlessly kind he is.

Rios said he is the person who never fails to provide support and motivation to anyone who may need it. 

“Here’s the thing about Lee that everyone needs to know, that is exemplified by this event. He’s so intent on bringing others up, bringing others along with him. So as he rises, it’s like all boats rise with him because he’s bringing people to open up and read their poetry at his event,” said Optimism One, Herrick’s childhood friend.