The talent of dozens of Fresno State faculty, alumni and students were on display April 23 at the inaugural LitHop, a daylong literary festival held in Tower District.
The festival was headlined by U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, a professor emeritus of Chicano and Latin American Studies who was appointed to his second term as Poet Laureate on April 13. Herrera is the 21st national poet laureate and the first Latino writer to hold the title.
LitHop featured 140 writers at nine different venues starting at 2 p.m. At least half of the 140 writers are associated with Fresno State in some way.
Fresno’s Poet Laureate Lee Herrick, who organized the festival, was thrilled at the attendance.
“From 2 p.m. and on, it’s been pretty full everywhere,” he said, while introducing Herrera.
Several Fresno State faculty had readings scheduled at 6 p.m. at Fulton Street Art.
Dr. Samina Najmi shared an article she wrote for The Progressive, titled “Hiding Osama bin Laden.”
Najmi, who was raised in England and Pakistan, wrote the article after a classmate asked one of her children if her family helped hide bin Laden.
“My childhood a spliced narrative of Pakistan and England. I thought I finally found belonging in America,” Najmi read to an audience of around 50 people. “While the world seemed to take leave of its senses and while we razed Afghanistan that October in order to kill one Saudi man responsible for our national tragedy, I was about to bring an American boy-child into the world.”
Najmi, being non-religious, said she took comfort in the secular traditions of the United States.
“I returned with the knowledge that the only text I could hold sacred was the American Constitution,” she said. “That I could trust it in a way that I couldn’t trust governments or public opinion anywhere.
“Even if we warred with two Muslim countries simultaneously, America would give me space to raise my children as I wished,” Najmi continued.
Dr. Larissa Mercado-López, a faculty member in the Women’s Studies program, read her children’s book “Esteban de Luna, Baby Rescuer!” It’s set to be published in March 2017.
“I’m pretending you’re all four years old,” Mercado-López joked while she read to the audience assembled at Fulton Street Art, which flooded out of the entrance and had people standing on the sidewalk.
The festival culminated with a speech from the national poet laureate. Herrera spoke to a packed house at the Fresno City College Old Administration Auditorium. During Herrera’s speech, which closed the festival, he spoke about growing up in the Central Valley, and read poetry.
He also commented on the large number of poets that Fresno has produced, which includes the national 2016 Walt Whitman Award winner and LitHop participant Mai Der Vang.
“People always ask me, ‘What’s going on in Fresno?’” he said. “Well, I forgot to tell you but Fresno is the poetry capital of the world.”