Walking past a row of books in a library, 21-year-old aspiring poet Juan Felipe Herrera was stopped short by a title: “Snaps.” The book was the debut collection by Victor Hernandez Cruz.

“I opened it up, started reading those poems,” Herrera recalls 45 years later. “Puerto Rican bilingual English style and language and voices. The wordplay, improvisation, it was amazing. That catapulted me. I never forgot it.” In 2012 he found himself sitting with Cruz as chancellors of the Academy of American Poets in New York City.

Now he’s joining an even more prestigious club: On Wednesday, the Library of Congress named him U.S. poet laureate. When he begins his tenure in September, he’ll be the first-ever Chicano poet laureate, writing and speaking in both English and Spanish.

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